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The Pirates Pivot To Jose Quintana

Jose Quintana would represent a sea change of philosophy for the Pirates

Entering this offseason, the Pirates set out trying to trade Andrew McCutchen for some reason. Was it because his salary in 2017 is going to be $14.2M? Only if you see red whenever Bob Nutting’s name is mentioned and think he’s Scrooge McDuck with a big silo of money. Was it because he had a shockingly bad year? Perhaps, if the Pirates don’t think he can recover from it. Or was it because 2017 is his last guaranteed year before his team option year of 2018 and they wanted to recoup some value and re-stock the farm system? This is the most reasonable and likely answer.

They tried to move him to multiple destinations, with the Nationals as the most often-reported suitor. But as I discussed at the outset of the offseason, the Pirates were selling him as a bounceback MVP-caliber player on an affordable deal and the other teams were trying to buy him as a player that just turned 30 coming off a terrible year. The chasm of negotiations was too large to bridge.

So it seems that Neal Huntington and Company took a deep breath, re-worked the offseason plan, and decided that they’re going to attempt to make an effort to go for it in 2017 (and perhaps 2018), while McCutchen is still here. News tweeted out yesterday by Buster Olney that the Pirates were “trying hard” to acquire LHP Jose Quintana from the rebuilding Chicago White Sox. My affinity for Quintana is bordering on restraining order level at this point, but let me just point out that I was on the Quintana acquisition train back in July for the Pirates. To recap why Quintana is the perfect pitcher for the Pirates:

  • He’s extremely good at the business of throwing baseballs — he’s basically a high-end #2/low-end #1 pitcher, good for 5 WAR per year
  • He’s extremely durable — innings totals the last four years, from 2013-2016…200, 200-1/3, 206-1/3, 208
  • He’s left-handed — the Pirates don’t currently have one of those dudes in the rotation
  • He’s extremely affordable — 2017 salary of $7M, 2018 salary of $8.85M, 2019 club option of $10.5M, 2020 club option of $10.5M

And these four factors combined together are why the soon-to-be 28-year old Jose Quintana will be extremely expensive to acquire from a prospect capital perspective. Let’s run a rudimentary surplus value calculation on Quintana:

  • 2017 — 5 WAR, $8M/WAR = $40M value
  • 2018 — 5 WAR, $8.5M/WAR = $42.5M value
  • 2019 — 4.5 WAR, $9M/WAR = $40.5M value
  • 2020 — 4.5 WAR, $9.5M/WAR = $42.75M value

His value based on production totals up to $165.75M. Once you subtract out his salaries over those four years, as shown above, his surplus value is $128.9M of prospect/player capital. From our Prospect Value article, here’s a handy reference chart on what each tier of prospect from the Baseball America Top 100 list is worth:

As you can see, no one prospect is going to be equivalent to Quintana’s value. It will require a passel of them to make up the surplus value he brings. Baseball America will be coming out with their official new 2017 Top 100 in late February/early March, but using this past summer’s Midseason Top 100, the Pirates had the following prospects on the list:

  • Tyler Glasnow #6 — Pitchers #1-10 — $69.9M
  • Austin Meadows #10 — Hitters #1-10 — $73.5M
  • Josh Bell #38 — Hitters #26-50 — $38.2M
  • Kevin Newman #51 — Hitters #51-100 (we group them together because of minimal value spread) — $22.4M
  • Mitch Keller #52 — Pitchers #52-100 (same grouping, same reason) — $16.5M

So in order to do this just with BA Top 100 caliber guys, one of Glasnow or Meadows has to front the deal. Bell almost has to be in there, too, which is fine with me because I think he’s a DH-in-waiting and not suited to the NL. Then add either Newman or Keller to round it out. Let’s say the deal was Glasnow, Bell, and Newman…that’s $130.5M of prospect surplus value, a near-perfect match. That’s a package I could live with. Yes, losing Glasnow would sting, but if you think his control issues and slow times to the plate portend future struggles, then sell high on him to a team seeking as much upside as possible before the shine is worn off. Newman is a slap-hitting SS that I don’t think will have enough bat to justify being more than a middle-of-the-road starter. A slightly better Jordy Mercer, maybe?

There are those out there (including here on the TPOP staff) that would blanch at this package and say it would ruin the farm system irreparably. Of course you would be losing 18+ years of combined control, many of which are of the low-cost variety the Pirates crave. But prospects fail all the time. Look back up a few paragraphs at the prospect value chart by tier. Take a gander at the bust rates for how many prospects get 3 WAR or less over their team-controlled seasons. Then look at how many get 0 WAR or less (outright bust) during their team-controlled seasons. It’s staggering, especially for prospects outside the highest tiers.

Quintana is a known quantity, a proven performer, on a contract that is envious to every team. Yes, there’s the chance that he becomes injured and never replicates his Chicago years here. Nothing is set in stone. But Quintana has already done it and is in the prime of his career, whereas these prospects are hoping to have the career Quintana has achieved heretofore.

If the Pirates acquire Quintana, the Pirates will have extended their window of contention by at least two years to 2017 and 2018. The Pirates’ top three of the rotation will be under control through at least 2019. Cole is here for that timeframe, Quintana potentially through 2020, and Taillon through 2022. The Pirates can run 2017 as a go-for-it season, then explore trading McCutchen in the 2017 offseason (as we called for a year ago). With whatever assets they obtain from the McCutchen trade, the Pirates can then enter the 2018 as a contender again.

After the 2018 season, the Pirates could then enter a reload phase by trading Gerrit Cole and his one remaining year of team control and possibly sniff the market on Quintana and his two team option years. Trading those two high-end pitchers could either re-ignite the farm system or provide some young talent to keep the contention wagon rolling. Keep in mind, the Pirates still have Marte (2021), Taillon (2022), and Polanco (2023) under control for long down the road. That’s a far better core of talent than the White Sox possess as they enter their own rebuild phase.

In short, the Pirates can still be sustainable, even if they have to take a step back here and there. The sky is not falling. And the Pirates can have their cake and eat it, too, by contending on a budget while maintaining a farm system that supplies young talent to the Majors. But all this depends on Neal Huntington being willing to pull the trigger and part with prime talent, something he has yet to do in any of his trades to date.

Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

9 Comments on The Pirates Pivot To Jose Quintana

  1. Things I’d like to point out:

    – Kevin Newman was considered a reach by pretty much everyone other than Keith Law when the Pirates took him in the 1st round in 2015. 63 other players were taken before Mitch Keller in 2014. Players like them are available every year and, if prospect rankings are considered viable, the Pirates have done a good job finding value with their picks through the last few years.

    – Glasnow has more than enough question marks to make him a tradable commodity. His control issues are real and he definitely looks like he’ll have some growing pains on the next level. I’d still say that his floor is a high-impact reliever, which is far from worthless, but not as valuable as four seasons of Quintana.

    – I’m probably more pro-Josh Bell than Kevin is, at least partly because there is still a hole at first base and the Pirates won’t pony up for a legitimate replacement. Praying for Bell to develop is the best chance to fill that void. But, again, the hole in the rotation is a more pressing need. David Freese could stand over there for two years and not ruin the team.

    • Kevin Creagh // December 22, 2016 at 12:35 PM //

      One of the fallacies people get caught up in with prospects is they act like no more prospects are ever going to be made. The Pirates are pretty good at identifying young pitchers and coaching them up in the minors to be usable pieces. If Keller goes (he’s the one I hope they hold on to the most, but if he goes so be it), they’ll just find another Keller in the next draft/trade and start over. There’s a chance they stole Taylor Hearn in the Melancon trade, but no one wants to talk about how great that trade was in the general public/media.

      I think the Pirates can fake it at 1B without Bell. It’s not like they’ve had a great 1B over there in….forever. Bell is simply not good in the field. It’s shocking how bad he is when you see it live. I watched him throw the ball around the diamond between innings of a game and it looked like he was throwing a shot put.

      • I don’t think your claim that the ‘Pirates are pretty good at identifying young pitchers and coaching them up in the minors…’ holds water.

        Since NH took over, Bucs are 14th in the majors in bref WAR (with 15.6) for pitchers drafted and signed – that includes WAR that was earned playing for other franchises. They are 26th in the number of drafted and signed pitchers who have played in the majors with 11. Sure, they have some arms who might work out. But so does every other franchise. Given the Pirates position in the draft, I find their record on drafting/developing pitchers to be pedestrian. I wouldn’t describe it as ‘pretty good’.

  2. Jim Garland // December 23, 2016 at 9:36 AM //

    Great analysis. It quantifies the feelings I have about prospects. You need to have a bunch of them in your farm system precisely because so many of them flame out. There are multiple sites devoted to hyping prospects, and as a result, high expectations are set. But so many of them start out as beasts in Low A only to project as role players at the MLB level 4-5 years down the road. I would do the trade you propose in a heartbeat.

  3. Alan Jensen // December 24, 2016 at 6:08 PM //

    I’m a Sox fan so obviously I look at things through a different pair of glasses.
    Quintana is a quality pitcher and a quality guy. No emotional outbursts. He simply takes the ball every 5 games and gives the team a good chance to win. However….if I’m Rick Hahn, I get Meadows or there can’t be a deal. The Sox already traded for some good RH pitching prospects. They need position players. Meadows is a perfect fit for the Sox. Bell may be a good hitter but typically there are several good DH types in free agency every year. This should be the last piece of the puzzle when the Sox can contend again.
    The only way I’d do a deal without Meadows would be a 3 way and the Sox getting another teams top position player. I don’t think that’ll happen though.
    I’d love to see Q on a team that can hit and catch the ball. The Pirates are a good fit. Let’s hope something can get done.

    • Kevin Creagh // December 24, 2016 at 8:47 PM //

      That’s an understandable position on Meadows, especially since Glasnow and Giolito are of similar profiles and maybe the shine is off both of them a bit. If it had to be Meadows, so be it. Quintana is that good.

      I think Meadows is going to be a very good, not great, RF. Maybe a 4 WAR guy.

  4. Trade Andrew McCutchen or Austin Meadows who cares The Pirates NEED a damn good pitcher …period…Make a deal NOW

  5. Boyd Walters // December 25, 2016 at 9:05 AM //

    In short, concise and succinct terms, I AM NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, GIVING UP AUSTIN MEADOWS OR JOSH BELL!!!!!!!!!!!!! Bell’s ceiling offensively is not even in sight yet. I predict he has Eddie Murry/Albert Puljos kind of offensive talent. Austin Meadows it the heir apparent to Andrew McCutchen and in my opinion should not be in any trade discussion if I am Neal Huntington. I’ll trade Glasnow, reluctantly, and will also very reluctantly trade Keller, but that is as far as I am going with our top tier prospects. The Pirates don’t have to clear out their top shelf to get another starting pitcher that gives them a legitimate shot at playing deep into October. To be sure, Jose Quintana would be a fabulous piece to add. I’m just not going to give up Austin Meadows or Josh Bell to make it happen. If those are the names that the Sox insist on, then I say look to another starting pitcher on another team, or dip into the free agent market–Jason Hammel?–to enhance the starting rotation.

    • Kevin Creagh // December 25, 2016 at 10:09 PM //

      This isn’t North Korea, so you’re entitled to your opinion, of course. However, Josh Bell is entering his age-24 season in 2017. Bell is not even established yet in the ML and is far more potential than production. By the time Murray and Pujols were 24, they were each in their 4th seasons and pulling MVP votes regularly (Pujols would have won a few, if not for Bonds).

      Quintana is the perfect blend of cost/production for the Pirates. Those guys cost prospect capital. Relying on prospects to match their ceilings is a proposition destined for failure far more often than not.

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