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.”
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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.”