Chicago Cubs

Why Cubs see Jose Quintana as a game-changer

jose_quintana_0714.jpg
USA TODAY

Why Cubs see Jose Quintana as a game-changer

BALTIMORE — It might have been the red wine talking when reporters spotted him in a San Diego hotel, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon called it winning the baseball lottery when Jon Lester decided to sign with a last-place team during the 2014 winter meetings.

Just as that $155 million megadeal symbolized a franchise on the rise, this Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox becomes a shot of adrenaline for the defending World Series champs.

“It’s definitely an injection,” Maddon said before Friday’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. “There’s definitely energy involved. It’s more believable with him around here right now.

“You can’t do this without pitching. You cannot win for consecutive games for a period of time unless you pitch really well for a period of time. He gives us a much better chance of doing that on a consistent basis.

“He’s almost like the perfect acquisition right now.”

Quintana’s presence alone in the visiting clubhouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards won’t magically fix a sub-.500 team or close the 5.5-game gap against the Milwaukee Brewers. But another All-Star lefty to pair with Lester in this pennant race — and potential playoff rotations in 2018, 2019 and 2020 — made this an offer the Cubs couldn’t refuse. Especially when Quintana’s combined salaries as a Cub will roughly be the equivalent of Lester’s signing bonus.

“That’s the whole thing about it,” Maddon said. “With him, it’s not just about this year. It’s about down the road a little bit also. When you look at his body of work, where he’s at, his age and what’s also left on the contract, he’s the kind of guy you probably wanted to pick up this winter, anyway. And you get to do it now and give you a chance to help you win the second half and get back to the dance.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Quintana hugged Lester, met with Maddon and smiled throughout his media session. Quintana looked forward to his debut on Sunday against the Orioles and looked back on his time with the White Sox after hearing so many trade rumors that linked him to teams like the Houston Astros and New York Yankees.

“I watched the Cubbies a lot,” Quintana said. “I’m so happy to move to the other side of the city and stay in Chicago. I think it was the best trade for me.

“It was my first team and they gave me an opportunity to make the big leagues and I have a lot of friends there. But I know that’s part of the business. And now I’m going to go a different way. I’m happy with that.”

At the age of 28, Quintana is in position to notch his fifth straight season with at least 32 starts and 200 innings and become part of the star-studded cast that already includes Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant under club control through the 2021 season.

“When you look at Jose’s track record, he’s as consistent as they get,” Rizzo said, “one of the most underrated left-handers in all of baseball. And he’s with us now for a while. That’s great for us — to have that certainty that he’ll be part of this.

“He’s a young player. And he’s an amazing player that I think will get a chance to shine over here more than over there with Chris Sale going every fifth day for the White Sox for so long.”

Maddon’s message to Quintana in welcoming him from an off-the-radar rebuilding situation to a traveling circus: Be yourself.

“He’s got a great opportunity to impact this team in the second half,” Maddon said. “When you say that, some guys give you the wrong look. He was very good with that thought. He was very comfortable with that thought.”

Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

pierce-johnson-0517.jpg

Cubs lose Pierce Johnson on waivers

The Cubs have parted ways with the first pitcher drafted by Theo Epstein's front office.

The Cubs designated Pierce Johnson for assignment last week when they purchased the contract of Jen-Ho Tseng to make his first MLB start against the New York Mets.

Now Johnson is with a new organization.

The San Francisco Giants claimed Johnson off waivers Wednesday. He was initially selected in the supplemental first round in 2012 with the 43rd pick, 37 spots behind Albert Almora Jr.

Johnson is now 26 and just made his first — and only — big-league appearance May 19 this spring.

In Triple-A Iowa, Johnson had a 4.31 ERA in 43 games, including one start. He struck out 74 batters in 54.1 innings, but also walked 27 batters and had a 1.454 WHIP. 

Johnson spent six years in the Cubs minor-league system, going 29-21 with a 3.24 ERA, 1.305 WHIP and 9.3 K/9, working slightly more than half the time as a starter (74 starts, 56 relief appearances).

With the Cubs taking Johnson off their 40-man roster in mid-September as opposed to promoting him with expanded big-league rosters, it clearly shows he was not a part of their long-term pitching plans.

Imagine Chris Archer playing for a big-market team like the Cubs

9-20_chris_archer_at_wrigley.jpg
USA TODAY

Imagine Chris Archer playing for a big-market team like the Cubs

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Picture Chris Archer performing with Wrigley Field as the backdrop – the one Joe Maddon compared to a computer-generated scene from “Gladiator” – instead of a dumpy building off Interstate 275.      

Archer could see, feel and hear the Cubs fans who took over Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, a crowd of 25,046 saluting Maddon and watching the defending World Series champs play a sharp all-around game in a 2-1 win over a Tampa Bay Rays team that has a less than 1 percent chance of making the playoffs now.  

“It’s weird,” Archer said after the tough-luck loss, comparing the scene to last week’s games relocated to New York in the wake of Hurricane Irma. “I didn’t know we had that many people from Chicago, Illinois, Midwest area, in Tampa, but I guess we do. It was just weird for their players to come out and get announced and get so much love. It was strange.

“It felt like we were in Citi Field playing the Yankees, honestly. I’m not being critical. It was just crazy how much royal blue there was out there. When Willson Contreras went out there to warm up the pitcher, he had a standing O.

“I’ve been here for however long – and seen some really good players come – and I’ve never seen anybody get as much love (as they did when) they ran out of the dugout to warm up.

“It was just kind of crazy.”  

Archer pitched in the Before Theo farm system, at a time when the Cubs were scrambling to try to pry their window to contend back open after winning back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008. Maddon became the beneficiary when the Cubs packaged Archer – who had 13 Double-A starts on his resume at that point – in the blockbuster Matt Garza trade in January 2011.

Archer, who worked last year’s World Series as an ESPN analyst, has pitched in only two playoff games, making two relief appearances out of Maddon’s bullpen when the Boston Red Sox handled the Rays during a 2013 first-round series.   

Archer lost 19 games last season while putting up a 4.02 ERA and 200-plus innings. He earned his second All-Star selection this year and will turn 29 later this month. Wonder what the good-but-not-great numbers in 2017 – 9-11, 4.02 ERA, 32 starts, 241 strikeouts – would look like on a contender.       

“He is among the elite pitchers, there’s no question about that,” Maddon said. “I don’t watch him enough to know when he goes into these bad moments what exactly is going on. (And) I don’t even know how much certain years luck plays into it or not.

“But the thing about him in a big-city market that would intrigue me is him. He’s really bright. And he’s very socially engaged. For him to be in more of an urban kind of a setting with a greater audience, he could make quite an impact.”

Archer is locked into a team-friendly contract that will pay him roughly $14 million in 2018 and 2019 combined, plus the Rays hold bargain club options for 2020 ($9 million) and 2021 ($11 million). Meaning it would take an unbelievable offer just to get Tampa Bay’s attention.

Archer is also a face of the franchise, a two-time Roberto Clemente Award nominee who visits young men and women in the Pinellas County Juvenile Detention Center and stays involved with Major League Baseball’s RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).

“Beyond being a pitcher who is very, very good, I would be curious if he was in a larger situation,” said Maddon, who has an offseason home and a restaurant in Tampa and sat with Archer during a Buccaneers game last season. “Just because socially, in a community, he’s already done it here. But you put him in a large city with more of an urban situation – he could really be impactful in that city. He’s really engaging when he speaks. He’s very bright. He’s really well-thought-out.”

Archer has come a long way from the Mark DeRosa salary-dump trade with the Cleveland Indians on New Year’s Eve 2008. Stan Zielinski, the beloved scout who died in January, lobbied then-general manager Jim Hendry, insisting the Cubs shouldn’t do the deal without Archer, a Class-A pitcher who went 4-8 with a 4.29 ERA that season.

While closing the Garza deal, the Rays actually pushed for another pitching prospect, but the Cubs wanted to hold onto Trey McNutt. Other players bundled in that trade became useful major-league pieces (Brandon Guyer, Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld), but the headliner was supposed to be Hak-Ju Lee, a South Korean shortstop already blocked by Starlin Castro who never made it to the big leagues.    

“There was a lot of good players that came the Rays’ way at that time,” Maddon said. “I didn’t know what to expect (from Archer). I saw him in camp. Great arm. Didn’t really have a good feel for command at that time.

“But when you talked to the kid, you couldn’t help but really like him a lot. He and I connected on more of an intellectual level regarding books and stuff, because he’s really well-read. He’s a lot smarter than I’ll ever be. I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with him. And then all of a sudden, he started finding the plate. And that slider’s electric.”

Maddon has already seen what the Cubs brand and Chicago platform can do for his baseball legacy, bank account and off-the-field interests.

Do you want Archer back?

“I didn’t say that,” Maddon said. “That’s something I cannot (say).”