Cubs 'best offer' for Jose Quintana made it easy for Rick Hahn, White Sox to quickly pull trigger

Cubs 'best offer' for Jose Quintana made it easy for Rick Hahn, White Sox to quickly pull trigger

After they missed on closing out a Jose Quintana trade last offseason, the White Sox converted on Thursday morning and gave an already-impressive rebuild another layer.

Only four days after talks began, the White Sox agreed to send their 2016 All-Star pitcher to the Cubs in exchange for a four-player package that includes highly-touted prospect Eloy Jimenez. The right fielder gives the White Sox a critical potential impact bat they needed as part of their plan as well as a hard-throwing right-hander in Dylan Cease, whom one American League scout described as a poor man’s Michael Kopech, and two Single-A infielders. The contents of the package were good enough to convince general manager Rick Hahn to part with Quintana, who blossomed during his 5 1/2 seasons with the White Sox. Hahn said his team’s return from the Cubs far exceeds any offer they’d previously received.

“We had a few things that we felt got to about that 5-yard line (in December) and then in the end, for whatever reason, things fall apart, which happens frankly more often than not in these situations,” Hahn said. “In our opinion, in retrospect this deal actually trumps anything that we discussed last offseason.”

After a quick discussion last month, talks between the teams gained steam on Sunday when Hahn texted Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to see if he had interest in Quintana. Hahn didn’t realize it at the time, but he inadvertently texted Epstein during the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 10-run first inning on Sunday.

Having previously held discussions with others clubs that were advanced enough where the White Sox considered holding Quintana from starting on Friday in Denver, Hahn wanted to gauge the Cubs’ interest. He immediately informed Epstein the White Sox would only move forward if Jimenez and Cease were included in the package. A day later, Epstein contacted Hahn, who was in Miami at the All-Star Fan Fest with his son, Charlie. The two traded text messages back and forth while Hahn sat in the Marlins Park crowd for Tuesday’s All-Star Game before they reached an agreement.

“This was the best package offered to us and we were ready to pull the trigger on it and it finally came into place,” Hahn said.

The package gives the White Sox arguably the best farm system in baseball. The team now possesses nine of MLBPipeline.com’s top-100 prospects and seven top-100 farmhands, according to BaseballAmerica.com. Of MLB.com’s nine, six have been acquired in the trades for Quintana, Chris Sale and Adam Eaton.

The return also validates Hahn’s decision to hold off on trading Quintana last offseason. Hahn and the White Sox received some criticism in May when Quintana had two of the worst starts of his career in consecutive outings.

Reviews from scouts around the league varied but mostly favored the package the White Sox received. One AL scout said Jimenez “might be a monster — wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up better than (Yoan) Moncada.” A National League scout said the White Sox end of the deal is “good not great — Jimenez is really good.” One reason several scouts cited for a good grade instead of great is the question of whether or not Cease sticks as a starting pitcher. Either way, Hahn said he’s more than satisfied with what the White Sox got back dating back to when Quintana unofficially became available last season.

“This package of prospects we received today not only was far and away the best offer, the best possibility, that we’ve discussed with any club since we’ve started this process rough a year ago or so,” Hahn said. “But it’s one that allows us to continue to add to the prospect base that we’ve accumulated in a potentially high impact way.”

Such a mighty wallop: How does Matt Davidson's mammoth home run stack up?

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Such a mighty wallop: How does Matt Davidson's mammoth home run stack up?

The wind at Wrigley Field was blowing straight in and fly balls weren’t carrying well in batting practice. And still, Matt Davidson socked the sixth-longest home run in the majors this season, a booming eighth-inning blast onto Waveland Ave. that traveled 476 feet, according to MLB’s StatCast. 

“Today, it was kind of tough to get the ball out of here,” right-hander Anthony Swarzak said, “unless you’re Matt Davidson.”

The longest home runs of 2017, per StatCast, have been hit by:

Aaron Judge (495 feet)
Kennys Vargas (483 feet)
Mark Reynolds (482 feet)
Jake Lamb (481 feet)
Charlie Blackmon (477 feet)
Matt Davidson (476 feet)
Brandon Moss (474 feet)
George Springer (473 feet)
Kennys Vargas (471 feet)
Kyle Schwarber, Manny Machado, Ryan Zimmerman (470 feet)

The longest home run hit by a White Sox player in 2017 was a 464-foot blast socked by Jose Abreu on May 19. Abreu and Avisail Garcia shared the longest home run hit by a White Sox player since 2015 (when Statcast began tracking home run distances) with 465-foot shots in 2016 until Davidson’s dinger on Monday. 

Not only was it a jaw-dropping home run, but Davidson’s dinger came after falling behind 0-2 against a reliever in Koji Uehara who had only allowed two home runs in 32 innings this year. Davidson, who’s struck out in nearly 40 percent of his plate appearances this year, took an 0-2 fastball in off the plate and laid off a 1-2 splitter in the dirt. Uehara’s 2-2 pitch was a hanging splitter that wound up diving middle-in before being launched out of Wrigley Field. 

The home run, too, was an important insurance run as the White Sox aimed to stop a nine-game losing streak in front of a raucous Crosstown crowd of 40,849. The White Sox went on to win, 3-1. 

“I was pretty pumped up,” Davidson said. “This is the closest thing to a playoff game or like a really meaningful game. They are all meaningful. This rivalry it seemed like every pitch there was some sort of just everything was weighing on everybody, the fans, us, especially those last couple of innings. I was pumped up in the moment and excited we could get that insurance run.”

Fired-up Anthony Swarzak relishes pressure of first career save

Fired-up Anthony Swarzak relishes pressure of first career save

Willson Contreras wasn’t too thrilled with Anthony Swarzak’s final two pitches being called strikes, but for the White Sox reliever, that pair of perfectly-placed fastballs were the culmination of years of work. 

Swarzak earned his first career save in the White Sox 3-1 win over the Cubs in Monday’s Crosstown opener at Wrigley Field, retiring Javier Baez in the eighth and then pitching past Kris Bryant’s two-out infield single and Anthony Rizzo’s ensuing walk in the ninth. After home plate umpire Angel Hernandez rung up Contreras to end the game, Swarzak unleashed a yell that encapsulated the energy of the day — even though the White Sox, in snapping their nine-game losing streak, remain at the bottom of the American League. 

“I’ve been waiting for that opportunity for a long time,” Swarzak said. “It’s nice that I went in there and got it done. You think about that moment for years and then it finally happens. You just are trying to take a step back and reflect on what just happened, and I’ll be able to come in tomorrow and be ready to go.”

While both teams paid lip service to the “it’s just another game” approach to Crosstown matchups, the crowd of 40,849 was electric. Third baseman Matt Davidson — who slammed a 476-foot home run in the eighth inning — remarked that Monday afternoon was the closest atmosphere he’s felt to a playoff game. Swarzak felt that same energy, too. 

“When you work really hard on executing and in the biggest situation, runners on against the Cubs, Wrigley Field, to be able to execute, that means that you’re working on the right stuff and you’re headed in the right direction,” Swarzak said. 

With David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle shipped to the New York Yankees last week, and Nate Jones and Zach Putnam out for the rest of the season, Swarzak should get more high-leverage opportunities going forward — that is, unless he’s traded within the next week. The 31-year-old Swarzak, who lowered his ERA Monday to 2.23 with a tidy 2.34 FIP, is one of the White Sox few remaining trade chips, but his success this year makes him an attractive target for a team vying for a playoff spot. 

If Swarzak is traded to a contender, he’ll pitch in plenty more high-leverage spots in front of charged-up crowds. Playoff baseball may be in his future, and Monday afternoon could prove to be a preview of what he’ll be up against over the final few months of the season if he indeed is traded. 

“Pitching the ninth inning is different,” Swarzak said. “Guys are more patient, they know what you’re going to throw, they’re locked in a little more. And that was just one. There’s a long list of career saves and I’m on the bottom of it. Hopefully I can get a few more opportunities and we can win some more games.”