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Chicago’s Jose Quintana as a benchmark for an Anthony DeSclafani extension with the Reds

There are perils in signing pitchers long-term, but ample benefits in investing early.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

There isn’t a larger name on the MLB trading block at the moment that Jose Quintana, the 27 year old righthander who’s currently a member of the Chicago White Sox. That’s in part because the Sox are in a similar position to where the Cincinnati Reds were two years ago - on the cusp of an obvious rebuild with a talented, veteran roster almost certain to be overhauled.

There’s a distinct difference between the two scenarios, however, one which most Reds fans have been grumbling about for nearly that entire stretch. While the likes of Johnny Cueto, Aroldis Chapman, Todd Frazier, and others were proven, marketable names, they were being moved with almost little to no team control remaining, which drove their prices down significantly in the eyes of other teams. The White Sox, on the other hand, have opted to shop some of their bigger name with multiple years of team control attached to them, which has escalated the prospect haul they’re demanding to atmospheric levels.

Would Johnny Cueto have brought back the top overall prospect in baseball prior to the 2015 season had he had a cheap 3 years and $38 million contract at the point? Perhaps not, but the Reds wouldn’t have been outlandish to ask for something near that level, and that’s exactly the scenario and contract that played out when Chicago moved ace Chris Sale to Boston earlier this month. Trading Cueto with a half-year at $5 million eliminated that possibility.

You get the point, though. Good players can be moved for good returns, but good players on great contracts reap the kind of returns that are still written about years down the road.

That brings us back to Quintana, the 1A in Chicago’s rotation since 2012 who, like Sale, is both on the block and signed to an under-market contract. He’s got 2 guaranteed years left on his deal that guarantee him a total of $15.85 million over that span, but team options for 2019 and 2020 of $10.5 million and $11.5 million, respectively, also come with his services. That’s potentially a 4 year deal for just shy of $38 million for the 2016 All Star who has amassed an impressive 20.5 bWAR in his first 5 big league seasons.

This is not an emphatic plea for the Reds to go trade for Quintana, however, despite how nice he’d likely look as an anchor in their rotation for that time frame. Instead, it’s a closer look at the pitcher Quintana was when he signed his extension after just 2 years of service time.

For instance, through the 2013 season - or all the big league playing time he’d accrued before signing the extension - Quintana had thrown 336.1 IP of 3.99 FIP, 1.27 WHIP ball, posting a solid 3.61 ERA and 117 ERA+, all of which was good for 5.1 fWAR combined. The White Sox were quite proactive at that point and signed him to his current deal, which - if his options are eventually picked up - will cover a full 7 seasons from 2014-2020 at a cost of just over $42 million total.

Signing players early to long-term extensions hasn’t exactly been the norm for the Reds over that period, especially for pitchers. They managed to eek out 2 potential free agent years in the eventual bargain extension Cueto signed years ago, but since then every multi-year deal they’ve signed a pitcher to has either only bought out arbitration years (with Mat Latos, for instance) or come to fruition in their final year of team control (with Homer Bailey, for instance, which featured the bulk of the guaranteed money buying out potential free agent years). But with Jose Quintana on my mind, digging through the numbers of perhaps the Reds’ most valuable current asset became much more interesting.

Anthony DeSclafani currently has 2 years of service time under his belt, leaving him at the exact same bargaining point in his controllable career as Quintana was when he and Chicago agreed to said extension. To date, Disco has thrown 341 IP of 3.78 FIP, 1.30 WHIP ball, with a 3.99 ERA and 102 ERA+ to his name. Since the bulk of that has come with the Reds in the last pair of seasons, though, looking at those numbers brings them even more in-line with Quintana’s (with the caveat of them coming in the National League firmly in mind). That’s been 308 IP of 3.74 ERA ball, with a 3.79 FIP, 1.29 WHIP, and 107 ERA+ to his credit.

And because statistics are always fun when cherry-picked, it’s fun to note that DeSclafani’s 5.2 fWAR to date goes comically well with Quintana’s 5.1 fWAR through the same amount of service time (as does the 5.1 of that fWAR that has come in Disco’s time with the Reds).

Signing pitchers of any age to potential 7 year contracts is risky as hell, as you know. Watching (or, rather, not watching) Bailey since he signed his extension is the obvious cautionary tale. Quintana inked his deal as a newly-turned 25 year old, meaning he was bought-out through his age 31 season. While Disco has plenty of peripherals that are in-line with Quintana, he’d be turning 27 a month after signing a similar deal (since Quintana and the White Sox came to the agreement in March of 2014). That’s a clear distinction, one that should obviously be factored in to any calculations - alongside the added inflation the game has seen in that three year window.

It’s also important to note that Quintana’s extension has become a massive bargain, as he’s not only replicated his early success (118 ERA+ since the start of 2014), but he’s done so with a trio of consecutive 200+ inning seasons in that span, providing the kind of quantity and quality that’s so hard to find in the game today. Considering DeSclafani has yet to top 184.2 IP in a single big league season, betting on that kind of durability can be within the realm of expectations, but hardly counted upon.

Disco has certainly earned worthiness of an extension, and it’s an easy case to make that he’s the current Red most deserving of one - both based on his early performance and the lack of proven, young players surrounding him on the roster. He’s also exactly the kind of player other teams have actively tried to sign long-term, with Quintana the latest example of how signing players at this early stage can turn them into the most valuable pieces in the game.

The White Sox cashed in big time with Sale, did so similarly with Adam Eaton (and his five years of team control thanks to a similarly signed deal), and are in the catbird seat to do so again with Quintana, should they choose to do so. Frankly, it’d be nice to see the Reds strike a deal with DeSclafani that would provide them similar flexibility.