It's hyperbole to call Jose Quintana the offseason's invisible ace.
At the very least, however, rumormongers and prospective suitors are treating Quintana as if he's blurry around the edges.
Recall the fanfare that surrounded Quintana's former Chicago White Sox teammate and fellow left-hander Chris Sale. More to the point, recall the glistening package of prospects the Boston Red Sox sent to Chicago to secure Sale's services.
Sale was worth it. He's 27 years old, has elite numbers and is locked into an eminently affordable contract.
All of those things can be said—accurately—about Quintana, yet he isn't generating as much buzz.
Oh, there have been rumblings, as we'll get to shortly. Quintana, though, is the type of player who should consistently reside in the hot-stove headlines, especially with such a weak free-agent pitching class and other options falling off the board.
Here's a stat to chew on: Between 2013 and 2016, Quintana's 18.1 WAR ranked seventh among pitchers by FanGraphs' measure. He's sandwiched between Jon Lester (18.4) and Madison Bumgarner (18.0), a couple of southpaws you may have heard of.
Quintana has eclipsed 200 innings in each of the past four seasons. Last season, he posted a career-low 3.20 ERA and finished 10th in American League Cy Young Award balloting.
As for his contract, it's a budget-conscious general manager's fantasy: He'll make $7 million in 2017 and $8.85 million in 2018, followed by $10.5 million team options in 2019 and 2020.
A club that acquired Quintana this winter could have him for four years and $36.85 million. Next season alone, the Arizona Diamondbacks will pay Zack Greinke $34 million. Pause a moment and let that sink in.
Quintana comes with huge upside and little financial risk. The only cost will be in talent, and it will be steep.
Martes and Tucker are the Astros' top two prospects, per MLB.com, and Musgrove is a 24-year-old right-hander who showed solid flashes in 62 big league innings last season.
Two blue-chip minor leaguers and an MLB-ready arm is a lot to ask. Quintana, however, is a lot to get.
To land Sale, the Red Sox surrendered Yoan Moncada, the game's No. 1 prospect, per MLB.com. They tossed in right-hander Michael Kopech (MLB.com's No. 30 prospect), outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe (now the White Sox's No. 9 prospect) and 22-year-old right-hander Victor Diaz, who averaged 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season at Single-A.
In that light, the cost for Quintana doesn't seem so unreasonable.
In addition to the Astros, ESPN.com's David Schoenfield lists the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, Colorado Rockies, Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs as prospective suitors.
That's a third of the league. Some, like the Cubs, almost certainly aren't happening. The point, though, is there are many squads with a need in the rotation and a handful with the ability to at least theoretically meet the White Sox's sky-high demands.
"It comes down to needs and wants," Braves general manager John Coppolella said of a possible Quintana pursuit, per David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We don't have needs in starting pitching. Do we want a No. 1 starter, is Chris Sale a No. 1 starter? Yes. Do we want Jose Quintana? I don't think Jose Quintana is Chris Sale."
So we get back to the blurry around the edges. The underrating and underappreciating.
Quintana isn't Sale by definition. He doesn't boast his ex-rotation mate's gaudy strikeout totals and has played the Robin to Sale's Batman. That doesn't diminish Quintana's worth, as FanGraphs' Craig Edwards spelled out:
Quintana might have been playing second fiddle to Sale the past few years, but the team trading for Quintana isn't getting just a run-of-the-mill good starter. Jose Quintana is excellent, and there are plenty of reasons to think he's going to keep pitching well for a while.
The price for Sale was always going to be higher than the price for Quintana. That said, there's a credible argument that Quintana and his bargain contract should be nearly as attractive to teams looking for high-end pitching as Sale was.
Here's the bottom line: Quintana is a durable ace entering his prime who is signed for way under market rate for the next four seasons.
Hyperbole aside, those don't come around every day.
All statistics and contract information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.