Orioles free agent target: José Quintana
With Mike Elias having proclaimed the Orioles “lift off,” the writers at Camden Chat are hoping for some hard-hitting free agent additions to the roster. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be looking at possible signings – some more realistic than others.
Last week, several CC writers, including me, indulged in daydreaming about the Orioles’ rotation next year, imagining what it would be like if the Orioles signed Justin Verlander, Carlos Rodón, Jacob deGrom, and even how much lesser known Japanese free agent. Kodai Senga. We all know the reasons why this level of signing is unlikely to happen. The O’s will have to improve with low cost players. One of the many non-top guys who could make sense as an addition is veteran southpaw Jose Quintana.
Quintana’s 11 seasons in MLB were never very relevant to Orioles fans since he never played in the AL East. Had he continued to pitch like he did in his early seasons with the White Sox, he would be well outside the O’s price range. From 2013 to 2016, Quintana combined for a 3 ERA, 35 while throwing over 200 innings each year. He did so fairly anonymously, never gaining much support from Cy Young – probably because the White Sox were bad in those years and Quintana had less than ten wins in three of those seasons.
For several years after that, Quintana was on a declining path, which was very unfortunate for the Cubs, who acquired him in a trade across town. In 2021, Quintana had to settle for a one-year, $8 million deal with the Angels. He was bad there, eventually posting a 6.75 ERA. His command deteriorated and he was giving up loads of homers for the first time in his career. In 2022, Quintana had to settle for even less than that: one year, $2 million, the Pirates.
Things have improved! Quintana looked more like the previous decade’s version of himself, edging his way to a trade out of purgatory and into playoff contention with the Cardinals. Over the entire season, Quintana ended up with a 2.93 ERA in 32 starts, with an almost identical 2.99 FIP and a combined WHIP of 1.213. If you plugged that performance into the 2022 O’s rotation instead of Jordan Lyles, the O’s would have given up about 30 fewer runs, tipping their expected WL record for four more wins.
It’s never as simple as that. You can’t just wave a magic wand and shift a pitcher’s performance from one team (or two) to a different team in a new year. Quintana might not look like the same guy again after another year has passed and moved to pitch half of his games at Camden Yards.
You can watch a lot of 2022 from Quintana and not feel like it was a fluke. His strikeout and walk rates were much like his best years with the White Sox. His BABIP was .302, matching his career numbers. Its speed, although down a mile per hour since 2016, has been constant for five years. As a veteran southpaw, you can imagine him settling into a sort of “shrewd southpaw” mold.
One concern might be that Quintana’s home run rate has really dropped (only eight allowed in 165.2 IP), except even that might not be as concerning as before. A left-handed starting pitcher from Camden Yards now has Walltimore by his side. It must be nice. Another is that he is among the heaviest ground ball throwers for beginners – at 46.4% by FanGraphs, he was 13th out of 45 skilled throwers. The shift ban will be a drag there, although we can hope the Orioles have players good enough not to suffer too much.
Quintana also throws about one fewer innings per game than his early years. He was reliable making 32 starts this year, but he was no inning eater, averaging just over five innings per start. Even a good team can use a guy like that in the back of their rotation.
Given that Quintana turns 34 next season and doesn’t have the multi-year quality of fellow free agent pitcher Chris Bassitt or the career pedigree of Verlander, that should put him more in a plausible price range for the players. Orioles. According to FanGraphs and MLB Trade Rumors, the expected contract for Quintana is two years and $24 million.
Mike Elias is yet to give several guaranteed years to a free agent since taking over as Orioles general manager. That would be a fairly low-risk way to take the plunge. It’s not a huge commitment of years or dollars, leaving room for the O’s to make other additions. The only thing that would hurt if the signing turned into a failure is if there were any disastrous outings hurting the chances of the 2023 and 2024 Orioles teams that we’d like to see do better than this year’s upset.
An early projection for 2023 performance is the Steamer model on FanGraphs, which sees some regression for Quintana in the direction of its x-stats from 2022. Quintana had a 3.86 xERA and 3.72 xFIP and is projected for a 3.99 ERA in 2023. That’s not terribly exciting as a signing, but it’s a nice improvement over several of the guys in the 2022 O rotation. He’s likely to be better than at least two band members Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Austin Voth and Tyler Wells for this year, although none of us know for sure which of this group will be the best.
Considering the only other southpaw option that will be ready on opening day is DL Hall, and who even knows what to think of him as a starer, the idea of signing another serious southpaw to have in the mix appeals. Quintana could also fill the role of “veteran presence”, especially for the contingent of Orioles from Spanish-speaking countries. It seems like something they’ve enjoyed this year with the signings of Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos and even the mid-season pickup of Jesús Aguilar.
Neither of these guys played well as Orioles, which isn’t to say they weren’t quietly playing a role the front office deems important. Finding a player to fill that role who is actually a good player would be a good change from last season to the next.
If the biggest move the Orioles make this offseason is signing Quintana or a pitcher around his rank, it’s not going to be a very exciting offseason. If it’s the second (or maybe even the third) most interesting acquisition, then good things are happening. And if even that signing isn’t “the right price” or whatever phrase the beat writers will deploy to rationalize about it, then we can be pretty confident the Orioles won’t sign a free agent from impact this winter.