PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' offseason has been dominated by rumors of who they might deal -- namely, Andrew McCutchen -- but Wednesday morning brought word that the Bucs are in on one of the best available starting pitchers.
The Pirates have "worked hard" to trade for White Sox left-hander José Quintana, according to ESPN's Buster Olney. The White Sox are aggressively rebuilding this winter, having already traded ace Chris Sale to the Red Sox and outfielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals. Each deal yielded a huge haul of prospects, and there's no doubt the White Sox would require a similar package to part with Quintana.
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Quintana is a natural fit for the Pirates, looking to bolster their rotation after a disappointing season. He is durable, having averaged 32 starts and 204 innings over the past four years. He has been effective, posting a 3.35 ERA and an 18.1 Baseball-Reference WAR during that span.
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He is also young -- he'll turn 28 in January -- and affordable, due $15.85 million over the next two seasons with club options for 2019 ($10.5 million) and '20 ($11.5 million). His $7 million salary in 2017 would fit within the constraints of the Bucs' projected $100 million payroll, while dramatically improving their chances of returning to the postseason.
This past season, Quintana -- long considered one of the game's most underrated pitchers -- posted a 13-12 record with a 3.20 ERA in 208 innings while finishing fourth in the American League with 5.2 WAR.
The Pirates could slot the All-Star lefty between right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon atop their rotation, rounding out the group with Chad Kuhl, then opening up a Spring Training competition for the final spot. That would be a significant upgrade for a club that began last season with Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jonathon Niese, Juan Nicasio and Jeff Locke in the rotation.
Considering their high-level prospects and organizational depth, the Pirates are uniquely positioned to swing a deal for a pitcher like Quintana. Historically, Pittsburgh has been reluctant to deal top prospects, but willing to part with mid-level Minor Leaguers. So, will it be willing to pay the price for Quintana?
When they sought controllable starting pitchers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Pirates were routinely asked for two of their Top 5 prospects: Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, Josh Bell, Kevin Newman and Mitch Keller. Presumably, Quintana would come at the same cost.
It seems unlikely the Pirates would be willing to part with Meadows, McCutchen's likely successor. Keller emerged in Class A as a potential frontline starter, making him an appealing target despite his distance from the Majors.
According to MLB Network's Peter Gammons, the White Sox asked the Astros for Joe Musgrove, Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker in exchange for Quintana. Musgrove has reached the Majors, while Martes (No. 29 overall) and Tucker (No. 50 overall) are the Astros' top two prospects. For the Pirates, a comparable package might include Glasnow, Bell and Newman.
For Sale -- a better pitcher with a less favorable contract -- the Red Sox gave up one of baseball's top prospects (Yoán Moncada, No. 1 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 list), a Top 30 prospect (Michael Kopech), a Top 10 prospect in their system (Luis Alexander Basabe) and a Top 30 prospect in their organization (Victor Diaz).
It is unknown who the White Sox might request from the Pirates. However, a similar deal likely would have to begin with Glasnow (No. 1 in their system, No. 8 overall). It's unclear if the Bucs would be willing to part with him, but theoretically, they could withstand losing him. Glasnow has top-of-the-rotation potential, but the Bucs have plenty of current or near-ready rotation depth.
Such a deal might also cost the Pirates someone like Bell (Pittsburgh's No. 3, No. 20 overall), who factors prominently into their long-term plans at first base, or Newman (No. 4, No. 42 overall). Using the Sale trade for reference, they'd also have to throw in a mid-level prospect -- Steven Brault? Cole Tucker? Will Craig? -- and another Top 30 prospect within their system.
The price will be steep, particularly for a franchise dependent upon its farm system. But Quintana is a rare pitcher and would be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh.