On Monday, rookie starter Jose Quintana of the White Sox struck out seven Detroit Tigers en route to pitching seven innings of one-run baseball. The lefty had started his major-league career by posting a 1.25 ERA through his first eight games, his work had been highly mixed since taking a thrashing from the Yankees back on June 29. Still, he rose to the occasion in a key divisional game and his overall ERA now stands at a very respectable 3.52.
No doubt you are well aware that Quintana served the bulk of his minor league apprenticeship with the Yankees. Signed by the Mets out of Colombia (the country, not Lou Gehrig's alma mater), Quintana had a run-in with MLB's anti-drug policy and spent a year on the sidelines. While Quintana was off getting a high colonic or whatever the detoxification process involves, he was released. He signed with the Yankees and was in the organization through last November, at which time the Yankees opted not to add him to the 40-man roster and he was allowed to depart as a minor-league free agent. The White Sox plucked him off the market after just a week.
Clearly Chicago's scouts saw something in Quintana, who had only made it as far as High-A, that New York did not.
To be wholly fair, it is also possible they saw some things to like but didn't like them enough to push another play off the 40-man roster. In retrospect, this seems a dubious excuse; the Yankees lost not a single player in the draft, and even found room to take two pitchers, acquiring Cesar Cabral through the Royals and selecting Brad Meyers from the Nationals. They even protected David Adams, a now-25-year-old second baseman who has some real pop for a middle infielder (.295/.378/.448 in the minors) but just never plays (and as long as he's stuck behind Robinson Cano, probably never will even if he figures out how to stay healthy). They also still had Greg Golson on the roster heading into the Rule 5 draft, and subsequently punted him to make room for one of the two pitchers.
I promise you no one first-guessed the failure to retain Quintana. He was just one of the more anonymous members of this list of roster flotsam allowed to depart the organization last November:
RHP: Francisco Castillo (Hi A), Noel Castillo (Hi A), Grant Duff (AA), Logan Kensing (AAA), Jeff Marquez (AA), Kelvin Perez (Lo A), Mark Prior (AAA), Josh Schmidt (AA), Kanekoa Texeira (AA), Eric Wordekemper (AAA)
LHP: Wilkins Arias (AA), Steve Garrison (AA), Brad Halsey (AA), Kei Igawa (AA), Jose Quintana (Hi A), Josh Romanski (Hi A)
C: P.J. Pilittere (AAA)
1B: Mike Lamb (AAA)
SS: Doug Bernier (AAA), Luis Nunez (AAA)
OF: Jordan Parraz (AAA)
That hasn't stopped some from second-guessing. Last week, ion a column titled "5 Moves That Have Hurt the Yanks," Joe Girardi's favorite writer called out Brian Cashman on the non-move move:
In fact, when I have asked general manager Brian Cashman about this, he has told me there was not even much of an argument to do so, even after Quintana went 10-2 with a 2.91 ERA at High-A last year. That turns out to be an utter failure of development and/or being able to self-analyze.
This assessment brings to mind another contretemps with a former Yankees prospect acquired by the White Sox, outfielder Chris Singleton. Singleton came to the Yankees via trade with Giants in the winter of 1997, had a highly unimpressive age-25 season at Triple-A Columbus, and was traded to the White Sox for a minor league pitcher so minor that no one ever saw him again. Singleton somehow won a job with the Sox, hit .300/.328/.490 with excellent defense, and finished sixth in the 1999 Rookie of the Year balloting. George Steinbrenner was reportedly very upset that the Yankees had thrown away such a valuable player.
The Yankees were pretty deep in outfielders at that moment, but Steinbrenner had a point. There was nothing in Singleton's resume to show that he was a potential starter, and once 1999 was over, Singleton struggled to produce at that level. Steinbrenner's fury was undoubtedly short-lived (he always had something to be pissed about, after all), but Singleton did have value, particularly in speed, defense, and the ability to slap .275 in doubles and triples off of right-handed pitching. That's not a player who would normally have value in trade, but can be a valuable extra part. Again, the statistics were not there to make the argument for Singleton, but you would have hoped that the team's decision-makers would have had reports that confirmed the tools.
Quintana might be a similar case, at least as to the brevity of his celebrity. His fastball sits at just 90 mph. He doesn't walk many, but he doesn't strike out many either, and his groundball rate is good but hardly exceptional. The White Sox play good defense. In front of a different quality of leather, he might not look as good. Basically, this is not a guy from whom you should expect consistency, and if he loses an inch off of his fastball, Abner help him.
We will see if that evaluation of Quintana is borne out in the fullness of time. Until then, don't second-guess the Yankees, credit the White Sox with seeing something/anything and catching lightning in a bottle. That happens sometimes, the same way it did for the Yankees and a veteran pitcher, Aaron Small. There are many arguments one can make to indict Yankees scouting and decision-making, primarily the amateur draft. Quintana is more fluke than case in point.