How Derek Turned Me Around to "No Thanks" on Quintana

Not many blog posts change anyone’s mind. Heck, not many writings of any kind change anyone’s mind. That's a sad observation I'm making, especially given that (when I'm not blogging) brief-writing is one of the main subjects I teach. But I’m not silly-cynical enough to say nothing ever persuades anyone. I’ve seen minds changed by logical points and strong writing -- which is exciting, and gives you some faith in humanity, however briefly.

Derek’s post on the furiously debated Jose Quintana trade possibility is one of those mind-changing works. I’d been gunning hard for a Quintana trade, including on this blog’s podcast, where I suggested this: if the Yankees get Quintana for Gleyber TorresClint Frazier, and a B+ to A- type of prospect or two, then they’d basically have traded the late 2016 Miller/Chapman haul for Quintana. Nabbing four years of an underpaid top starter for a half-year of Chapman and one and a half years of Miller, especially with the Yankees ending up re-signing Chapman, would be a steal. But Derek completely turned me against a Quintana trade for two broad reasons.

First, the upside isn’t enough. Quintana’s likely 3.5-WAR performance likely won’t make the Yankees a likely playoff team given that (a) the Yankees' barely-over-.500 projection for 2017 means they’re more than one starter away from contention, and (b) Quintana's 3.5-WAR projection could be just a 2.5-win gain, given the team's underwhelming yet useful depth of probably 1-WAR fifth through seventh starters. Of the back-end starters: I'm partial to Bryan Mitchell and Adam Warren; others may prefer Chad GreenLuis CessaDietrich Enns, or a mid-season callup of the almost-ready Chance Adams. But the point is that value over replacement level is a generalization that can vary based on a team's depth -- and on a team with a lot of 0.5-1.5 WAR options, a 3.5-WAR player adds a tick less value than he would on a shallower team.

Second, the cost of Quintana is too high. I respect Derek’s humility in admitting he could be called a “prospect-hugger” for arguing against buying Quintana with prospects. We all can get too enamored of the highest-end possible outcomes of our favorite prospects. But I don’t think it’s prospect-hugging to say that three top prospects -- Chicago's price -- easily could outperform early-30s Quintana by later this decade when the Yankees might be contenders again. Three top prospects probably become one flop, one OK contributor, and one genuinely good player -- and that package easily could match or exceed the just over 3 WAR expected from each of Quintana’s end-of-decade seasons.

I’m not saying Chicago’s high Quintana pricetag is unreasonable. Chicago's prospect hauls for Sale and Eaton include so much talent, and so much majors-ready talent, that they actually could hope to contend in 1-3 years. So Quintana could remain a key part of the next contending Sox team -- leaving the Sox now in an enviable position: they value keeping Quintana enough to dump him for only an offer they can’t refuse. If the current Yankees were the sort of contending or nearly-contending team that one more star pitcher could take over the top, then sure, pay Chicago's king’s ransom –- as Boston did, surrendering a huge bucket of prospects for Sale. But the Yankees aren’t there, and I give Steinbrenner, Cashman, and the rest of the front office credit for acknowledging that.