Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana underwent surgery on his left thumb, the team announced today. According to the team’s press release, Quintana suffered a laceration on his left thumb last week while washing dishes at home. The cut required five stitches, and Quintana ultimately required microscopic surgery to “further determine the extent of his injury.”
“The procedure identified a lacerated digital sensory nerve in his left thumb,” according to the Cubs. Quintana will be shut down from throwing for two weeks, and the team will make a further determination on his timetable for a return at that point.
It now seems likely that the ultra-durable Quintana will open the season on the injured list. Remarkably, that’d be the first IL stint ever for Quintana, who has averaged 32 starts and 193 innings per season since becoming a full-time starter in the Majors.
Quintana, 31, would’ve headed into the season hoping for a rebound campaign of sorts after struggling to a career-worst 4.68 ERA last season. The lefty was perhaps hampered, to an extent, by a .326 average on balls in play (career .304 BABIP) and even more so by a career-low 65.9 percent strand rate, which resulted in a more optimistic 3.80 FIP. That said, Quintana has turned in three straight years of an ERA north of 4.00, so a return to his 2013-16 form might not be realistic to expect, either.
The timing of the injury is particularly poor for Quintana, as he’s slated to become a free agent for the first time at season’s end. If he’s able to make it back to the mound in relatively short order, it’s possible that the injury won’t have much of an impact at all. Its fluke nature shouldn’t create the same type of concern that might arise in the case of a more problematic elbow or shoulder issue. But if Quintana misses a substantial portion of the season or struggles due to ongoing complications from an injury in his pitching thumb, he’ll head into what could already be a bleak free-agent landscape for players with some unwelcome red flags. There’s already been widespread speculation that owners will look to recoup some of this year’s revenue losses by scaling back free-agent spending, and entering the open market with any type of injury issue would only exacerbate matters.
As for the Cubs, if Quintana is to miss time early in the year, they’ll need to get creative or hope for some unexpected production from their already thin stockpile of rotation depth. Yu Darvish, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are locked in atop the rotation, and the team was already hoping for a rebound from righty Tyler Chatwood in the final season of his ill-fated free agent deal (three years, $38MM). Now, unproven Alec Mills becomes the favorite to take over the fifth rotation spot — barring any sort of outside addition.
There are still some unsigned veterans whom the Cubs could pursue on affordable deals — Tyson Ross, Marco Estrada, Clay Buchholz, Jason Vargas, Matt Harvey and Andrew Cashner among them — and teams are now free to trade once again. However, the Cubs have shied away from substantial spending in recent offseasons, and we’re less than a month removed from owner Tom Ricketts’ latest public comments about lack of resources and profitability in the game. A major financial addition doesn’t seem likely, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cubs pick up some depth. The team only included 50 players in its initial player pool submission, so there are as many as 10 spots to work with (plus another if Quintana requires a lengthy IL trip).