Mets Bolster Starting Rotation With Two-Year Deal for José Quintana

Jose Quintana
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets have done it. They’ve finally landed a superstar starter to replace Jacob deGrom. Wait, sorry, I’m being told that someone already wrote about the Justin Verlander signing. Instead, I’m here to talk about José Quintana, who signed a two-year, $26 million contract, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Will Sammon.

Just to be clear, Quintana was a very good pitcher in his own right this year. Despite his 6–7 record (I’d like to see you try starting a game for Pirates and being credited as the winning pitcher), he posted 4.0 WAR, a 2.99 FIP, and a career-best 2.93 ERA, pacing the Cardinals down the stretch after a deadline trade.

The 34-year-old will no doubt enjoy his new role as the precocious youngster of the Mets’ starting staff, next to wizened aces Verlander and Max Scherzer. In fact, as the rotation stands now, the 27-year-old David Peterson is the only starter younger than Quintana. The Mets will be expecting a whole lot of innings from pitchers who are just a few years away from having an entire bookshelf devoted to biographies of Winston Churchill.

New York Mets Starting Rotation Steamer Projections
Max Scherzer 38 31 191 13 9 1.05 10.77 1.96 3.33 3.2 4.3 3.7
Justin Verlander 39 31 190 13 9 1.07 10.14 1.85 3.37 3.31 4.2 3.6
José Quintana 34 31 167 10 10 1.32 7.97 2.98 4 3.98 2 2.1
David Peterson 27 23 132 9 7 1.27 9.68 3.58 3.46 3.63 1.9 2
Carlos Carrasco 35 29 161 10 10 1.26 8.45 2.6 3.96 3.92 1.8 1.6

Despite expecting a big step back from Quintana, Steamer projects the Mets’ five starters for 14.2 WAR in 2023. Only seven teams got that much from their rotation last year, including the Mets, who came in at 15.9 despite long absences from Scherzer and deGrom. Per Sarah Langs, who somehow knows these things, the Mets will be the first team ever to field three pitchers who started Game 1 of the postseason for their respective teams in the previous season. They also might not be done. On Wednesday Jon Heyman reported (sadly, without any major typos) that even after landing Quintana, the Mets are still in on Kodai Senga, star of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and no. 18 on our top 50 free agent rankings.

Quintana’s $26 million contract, meanwhile, just outstrips most projections, which had him at two years and $24 million — a relatively low number that reflects both his age and the rough seasons that preceded 2022. This is not his first time signing with the Mets, either. The Colombia native signed an amateur deal with them in 2006 but was released after a PED suspension and just 5.1 innings in rookie ball. He signed with the Yankees in 2008 and spent the next four years in their system before being released again in November 2011. The White Sox swooped in a week later to sign him, and he pitched just four games with the Double-A Birmingham Barons before joining the big league squad full-time.

After posting 3.4 WAR in 2013, Quintana reeled off four consecutive seasons worth at least four wins; in 2017, the last of those seasons, he was traded to the Cubs, where he continued to be a solid starter. In all, he posted at least 3.4 WAR in six of his first eight seasons, but injuries to his left thumb and lat limited him to just four appearances in 2020. He signed with the Angels for 2021 but pitched dreadfully enough that the Giants picked him up on waivers in August. He made just five starts in San Francsico and was released at the end of the season.

Quintana signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Pirates — the seventh team of his career — that offseason. Someone needs to decide whether this kind of contract is a pillow contract or a trampoline contract, as pillows and trampolines are extremely dissimilar. Regardless, he did in fact bounce right off the pillow, nearly halving his walk rate from its 2021 high and posting an exit velocity of 86.5 mph, the best of his career (since Statcast began measuring in 2015).

Chris Gilligan wrote about Quintana’s turnaround in October, pointing out that since 2012, he has posted the 10th-most WAR of all starting pitchers. But unlike the Scherzers, Kershaws, and Verlanders who rank ahead of him on the list, Quintana has only been to one All-Star Game and has never taken home any hardware. The one and only spot of black ink on his Baseball-Reference page came in 2022, when he led all of MLB with 0.43 home runs per nine innings.

It seems perfectly fair to believe that Quintana is not as bad as he was in 2021, with its career highs in BABIP and HR/FB and a career low in strand rate. He only pitched a total of 73 innings in his ’20 and ’21 campaigns (and I think most of us would prefer not to be judged based on how we were doing in those years). It would likewise be foolish to expect him to repeat a 2022 season when all three of those metrics were below his career average, especially his league-leading 5.3% HR/FB (down from a 10.3% career rate). Ben Clemens had this to say about Quintana: “Nothing about Quintana suggests he’s a different pitcher than before. And yet he somehow stopped allowing home runs, then went to a defensively dominant club at the trade deadline.”

The biggest change I could find is that Quintana started locating better. On the left is his 2022 four-seam fastball heat map, and on the right is 2020–21:

He was definitely better about elevating his four-seamer. He also located his curveball, sinker, and changeup in the zone more consistently, trading some strikeouts for a better walk rate and contact suppression.

The Mets are not the defensive team that the Cardinals are, and it remains to be seen whether they will bring Brandon Nimmo back into the fold. Behind Nimmo and Kevin Kiermaier, free-agent options in center are pretty thin, especially for a team hoping to challenge for a World Series in a division that seems to get tougher every couple of hours. If Quintana is able to keep more of his fly balls in the park, it would be nice to have someone out there capable of catching them.

The Mets have enough firepower at the top of their rotation that they’re likely fine with Quintana serving as the left-handed innings-eater his contract denotes. There’s also plenty of upside even if you assume that at this point in his career he’ll never be a 4.0 WAR pitcher again. If any of the contact suppression skills he picked up in 2022 turn out to be sticky and he spends the next two years as a crafty lefty, he’ll make many people in Queens happy.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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1 year ago

Orioles should have signed this guy. Instead we now have to accept Kyle Gibson being “liftoff”

1 year ago
Reply to  markakis21

I think it might take more money for the Orioles to sign guys than the Mets, given where they are in terms of contending.

I thought both the Gibson deal and this one were savvy budget-level signings.