When the Pirates signed Jose Quintana to a one-year, $2MM contract over the winter, it was clear from the jump that if he performed well, he’d be among the most surefire trade candidates on the market. Fast forward seven months, and Quintana has done just that, turning in a vintage showing that resembles his peak years with the White Sox. Unsurprisingly, MLB.com’s Jon Morosi tweets that Quintana is among the “most popular” names being discussed in what is still the nascent stages of the summer trade market.
This was likely always the plan for the Pirates: buy low on a pitcher with some track record who could potentially pitch his way into a trade chip. It’s a common tactic for rebuilding clubs, and one the Bucs have tried in the past under GM Ben Cherington (although Quintana is a bit more high-profile than either Tyler Anderson or Trevor Cahill were at the time of their deals with Pittsburgh). So far, it could scarcely have gone better.
Through 16 starts, Quintana has pitched to a 3.33 ERA with a 21.6% strikeout rate, a 7.3% walk rate and a 43.2% ground-ball rate. Those numbers stack up quite nicely with Quintana’s rates from his 2013-16 peak (20.8% strikeout rate, 6.0% walk rate, 43.7% grounder rate). He’s getting by with less life on his fastball than in the past — 91.1 mph average in 2022, 92.4 mph average from 2013-16 — but that’s hardly unexpected when comparing a pitcher’s age-23 through age-26 seasons to his age-33 campaign. And while some of the improvement in his plate discipline trends is likely reflective of the overall increase in strikeouts in recent years, it’s still notable that Quintana is sitting on an 11.7% swinging-strike rate and 35.6% opponents’ chase rate — both career-bests as a starting pitcher.
The Pirates have been judicious with Quintana’s workload and with the frequency (or lack thereof) with which they allow him to turn a lineup over for a third time. The veteran lefty is averaging just over five innings per start (81 innings, 16 starts), and only 54 of the 342 hitters he’s faced this season have been seeing Quintana for the third time on a given day. He’s acquitted himself quite well in those settings, yielding only a .208/.296/.313 batting line when facing hitters a third time, but the Bucs have only allowed him to pitch beyond the fifth inning in seven of his 16 starts.
Occasionally, Quintana has forced their hand with a rough showing early on, but those blips have been rare. Quintana has allowed more than three runs in only three of those 16 starts, and in one of those instances, three of the runs were unearned. The Bucs have seemingly been willing to give they lefty more leash after keeping his pitch counts low early in the season. He averaged 79 pitches per outing through his first five turns but has since averaged 90 pitches per start in 11 outings.
There’s little point in speculating on specific fits when it comes to Quintana, as the majority of contenders could use a solid arm to plug into the middle or back of their rotation. And, with just a $2MM salary on the season — about $995K of which remains to be paid out as of this writing — even the most cash-strapped clubs can take on the remainder of his salary without much issue.
Trades of note this far in advance of the deadline are increasingly rare in the modern game, as teams often wait until the final days to determine how aggressively to add — or whether to add at all. Even clear-cut sellers often hold off on conducting swaps of significance, as demand figures to increase closer to the deadline. That said, there’s zero doubt that the 33-47 Pirates (-113 run differential) will be open to moving short-term veterans this summer, so if a team wants to step up with an offer of note earlier than usual, the Bucs could be less reluctant to move than some other, more borderline sellers might be.