Jose Quintana went 9-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 200 innings for Chicago last year. (Andrew Nelles/AP)
The White Sox came to terms on Monday with 25-year-old left-handed starter Jose Quintana on a five-year contract that will give them cost-certainty over Quintana's remaining team-controlled years as well as options on his first two seasons after his scheduled free agency following the 2018 season. As a result of the options and a clause that adjusts Quintana's salary depending on his arbitration status after the coming season, the value of the contract varies. At its extremes, it could be worth $21 million over the next five years or $47.5 million over the next seven.
Signed by the Mets out of his native Colombia in 2006 at the age of 17, Santana missed the entire 2007 season after serving a 50-game drug suspension and being released. He then spent four years in the low minors with Yankees before again being released and signing with the White Sox in November 2011 at the age of 22. The 2011 season was Quintana's first in a full-season league, but in early May of 2012, after a strong start to the season in Double-A, he was called up to the majors and delivered 5 2/3 scoreless innings relief against the Indians, allowing just one hit. After a brief return to Double-A, he returned to the majors for good later that same month as a replacement for injured lefty John Danks.
Quintana has replaced Danks more completely than the White Sox could have ever imagined. While Danks, whom the team still owes $42.75 million for the next three seasons, has been rendered ordinary-at-best by the shoulder surgery that cleared the way for Quintana's arrival, Quintana has emerged as one of the White Sox's best players. After his initial burst of success in early 2012, Quintana had his share of struggles over the remainder of that season, posting a 4.97 ERA over his final 16 starts. However, in 2013, Quintana added a tick to his fastball, increased his strikeout rate by more than two per nine innings, and trimmed his walks, resulting in a handsome 2.93 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That helped him turn in a 122 ERA+ over 200 innings. If Quintana, who has passed the test of adjusting to a league that had adjusted to him, can continue to put up seasons like that, he'll be worth far more than the minimum $4.2 million average annual value of his new contract.
The actual value of Quintana's contract depends on whether or not he will be arbitration eligible as a Super-2 player after the 2014 season, something yet to be seen, as Super-2 status is determined by taking the top 22 percent of players, by service time, with more than two but fewer than three years of major league service. If Quintana falls in that top group, the guaranteed part of his contract will be worth $25.5 million (plus a $1 million buyout on his options). If he falls short of that 22 percent, it will be worth $20 million ($21 million with the buyout). The options on the deal are for $10.5 million in 2019 and $11.5 million in 2020, the latter of which will be Quintana's age-31 season. Even $11.5 million is a bargain for a pitcher who put up the kind of season Santana had in 2013, one FanGraphs estimated to be worth $18.5 million.
With this contract, the White Sox gain cost-certainty on a key player and now have Quintana, lefty ace Chris Sale—who signed a similar five-year deal with two options last March—as well as Cuban slugger Jose Abreu locked up through at least 2019. Add their recent trades for outfielders Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia, who are due to be free agents after the 2018 and '19 season, respectively, and the White Sox and general manager Rick Hahn appear to be succeeding in putting together a talented core around which the team can mount a return to contention. That return may not happen in the short term, but with a talented major league core and an improving farm system, things are heading in the right direction on the South Side.