Photos of Jose Quintana, who was traded to the Cubs from the White Sox.
As a testy Theo Epstein was being poked and prodded by reporters and boom mics last week at Wrigley Field, he looked as if he wanted to be anywhere else in the world.
Everyone was asking him what he was going to do to fix the mess the Cubs were in, the one no one saw coming, and Epstein was telling them the answers were in the clubhouse.
Maybe he was just playing rope-a-dope.
On Thursday the Cubs went outside the organization for an answer, acquiring White Sox ace Jose Quintana for a four-player package that included top prospect Eloy Jimenez.
"We think we’re in the middle of a five-plus year run where the goal is to win as many World Series as possible," Epstein said. "And all along we’ve known that to do that we have to trade for quality, controllable starting pitching."
The only way to do that nowadays is to give up your best prospects, which the Cubs did Thursday in sending Jimenez, Dylan Cease and two others to the Sox for Quintana.
Jimenez was only in Class A ball, but the power-hitting outfielder who recently broke some outfield light bulbs a la Robert Redford in "The Natural" is savvy enough to know he wasn’t just auditioning for the Cubs.
When I asked him Sunday at the Futures Game in Miami about the possibility of being dealt for pitching, Jimenez gave an honest response through Sox team interpreter Billy Russo.
"This is a business and you have to understand that," Jimenez said. "You’re in an organization right now, but you also have to play for the other 29 (teams). That’s the way you have to approach these situations."
It took four days for that scenario to play out, ironically with the Sox.
Sox win. Cubs win.
Everyone wins with a blockbuster that was stunning on several levels.
Why would the Cubs deal another top prospect, as they did last year in the deal featuring Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman?
Why would they risk seeing Jimenez become a star on the other side of town?
And perhaps the biggest question is what prompted the Sox to make a major trade with the Cubs, of all teams?
"They had the highest level of aggressiveness and willingness to part with the premium talent that Jimenez and Cease (represent)," general manager Rick Hahn said. "They deserve a world of credit.
"We all know they are very much in their window to compete for championships and they are making the most of the opportunity. Not too dissimilar to the (Chris) Sale and (Adam) Eaton trades where teams are squarely in that window."
Predicting who the rebuilding White Sox might deal and who they might keep as the trade deadline approaches.
Epstein predicted Jimenez would be "hitting bombs" on the South Side for many years, but stressed the Cubs believe they can win it all again in 2017 and Quintana was someone they dreamed of getting but thought was unattainable.
But the deal really wasn’t about winning this year, unlike the Chapman rental, which Epstein stated last July was all about 2016.
"If not now, when?" he said.
That one worked, though Chapman is gone. So was it worth trading your top prospect again to revive a Cubs’ team that doesn’t seem to have the same swagger as 2016?
"We obviously wouldn’t have traded Eloy just to help our chances in 2017," Epstein said. "This is all about all the way through 2020."
That’s how long the Cubs have control of Quintana, the pitcher who has had the toughest luck of anyone I’ve ever seen when it comes to well-pitched games that resulted in no-decisions. His two option years — $10.5 million in 2019 and $11.5 million in 2020 — are as good as picked up already. Jon Lester, Quintana, Kyle Hendricks should still all be around, and perhaps Thomas Hatch will join them next season.
Quintana’s presence could mean the Cubs aren’t willing to fork out the kind of megadeal Jake Arrieta is expecting this offseason, though Epstein insisted that’s not necessarily the case. Quintana is an ace who is paid like a No. 4 starter because his long-term deal was signed before starters’ salaries went out of whack.
Epstein said Quintana’s contract is so reasonable it gives them the leeway to sign another top free-agent starter in the winter.
"Hopefully it’s Jake," he said. "If not, then somebody else. I think it helps. It’s a great contract (for the Cubs)."
The genesis of the deal goes back to last December when the Cubs asked about Sale and were told sure, but only if Kris Bryant was included. Epstein didn’t expect anything different when he checked in after the draft on Quintana’s availability.
"I wasn’t expecting it to (happen), really," Epstein said. "When I called him on Chris Sale, he told me it would have to be a huge package started by Kris Bryant. That didn’t go anywhere, so I was expecting this one to follow a similar pattern."
Forecasting how each player on the Cubs roster will perform after the All-Star break, relative to their first-half performances.
Asking for Bryant, the National League MVP, was basically an admission from Hahn he was not interested in dealing with the Cubs because the mere idea of trading their biggest star was absurd and was not an offer any championship team would take seriously.
But when Epstein asked about Quintana, Hahn told him Jimenez and Cease, their top overall prospect and top pitching prospect, had to be included in any deal.
"I asked him what it would take, and while he got back to me with something more than we would do, it was at least intriguing and didn’t involve significant pieces from our big-league team," Epstein said. "So we got to work on it and have been working on nothing but for the last three-four days."
Hahn said "there was nothing for us to talk about with the Cubs without Jimenez being part of it," adding he was not going to lower his price.
"To Theo’s credit and his people’s credit, the entire Cub organization in the end saw what we saw from a logic standpoint, from a baseball standpoint," he said.
Hahn said he and Epstein were trading texts back and forth Tuesday night as Hahn watched the All-Star Game in Miami with his son Charlie. After mulling it over, Epstein finally said, "Let’s make a deal."
Epstein said he didn’t want to "sell low" on parts of the core players who had difficult first halves, which would seem to cover almost everyone but Anthony Rizzo.
"You’re not going to get requisite value for them, and then the core guys who helped us win the World Series I feel are going to help us win more World Series," he said. "There is no one untouchable, but we weren’t rushing to move those guys.
"It was important to take a deep breath. We had a bad first half. That’s on us. We are accountable for that. It doesn’t change the fact this is a winning nucleus. It’s indisputable. We already won one World Series.
"Because of that, we asked ourselves ‘What do we need to add to this nucleus for a chance to give us more World Series,’ and the correct answer was to get quality starting pitching that could be on the team for several years. And this was part of the answer to that question."
Quintana is joining a team that’s built to win over the long haul, and leaving one that’s being built from the basement up. Cubs fans know all about Quintana’s low-key personality, as well as his history of not getting victories in games in which he excels.
"I hope we score some runs for him," Epstein said. "He deserves it."