Jayson Stark talks Quintana, Judge, and the red-hot Astros
Jayson Stark

Jayson Stark is a former ESPN.com national baseball columnist who has covered the sport for nearly 40 years. He spoke with theScore on Thursday about a variety of topics as the second half of the season gets underway.

James Bisson: Thanks for taking the time, Jayson. Let's start with the big news of the day: Jose Quintana to the Cubs. Does this make Chicago the favorite to win the NL Central?

Jayson Stark: This is a really important deal for the Cubs. Jose Quintana is a guy they now control for several years beyond this year. So this is not a deal necessarily to address 2017. This is a deal that addresses the fact that Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are walking out the door after this year.

They've always looked at this trade market with the idea that they need to find starters who plug in for beyond this year, because that's when they really have a need. But in the short term, I'm not sure this in and of itself is enough that would make us say, "Oh, now they're going to win the Central."

For one thing, Quintana has been incredibly inconsistent. Maybe the Cubs are confident they can fix him. If you look at the data, it would indicate that he has probably been unlucky; his numbers don't match up to how he has been performing. Nevertheless, I don't know how you can say he's a franchise-changer for this year.

The other reason is, just look at how their other starters have pitched. Look at how Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta and John Lackey have pitched - and Kyle Hendricks hasn't even been able to get to the mound. Jon Lester gave up 10 runs in 2/3 of an inning in his last start before the break! He faced 12 hitters and got two of them out!

For the Cubs to overtake the Brewers and to re-enact what they did last October, you'd have to really be confident that not only Jose Quintana, but Lester, Arrieta, Lackey, and Hendricks are going to perform at some level reasonably similar to what you saw last October - and I think they're all feeling that usual October hangover that comes with playing until Nov. 2.

I'm not confident that this is enough for the Cubs to win this year.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

JB: So the Cubs made a move, and several other teams are expected to follow suit - including the Washington Nationals, whose bullpen remains a weak spot. How do you see them improving the relief corps?

JS: I'll tell you what: If they have the same bullpen on Aug. 1 as they have today, I'll volunteer to pitch the ninth inning for them.

I get the vibe that their frustration is that last year, when they wandered into the closer market, there were such great options. Aroldis Chapman. Andrew Miller. Mark Melancon. And this year, as they roll their shopping cart down that aisle, there's quantity - but is there that kind of quality?

The Royals and Rays getting into the race has taken Kelvin Herrera and Alex Colome out of play for them. I have this voice in the back of my head that says, "If they were going to trade for David Robertson, wouldn't they have done it six months ago?" I just kind of wonder, will they wait around to see if somebody like a Zach Britton pops out there? Or maybe even Melancon.

The Giants are so far out, does Mark Melancon fit? They don't have a lot of pieces to trade. If he were to come back, and he were healthy, isn't it possible they would at least talk about moving him? A lot of the contract was paid up front. Just something to keep in mind.

But I'm sure that the Nationals are going to deal for a closer. It wouldn't shock me if they dealt for multiple relievers. The rest of their team has "Win the World Series" written all over it. This is really the best team they've had in this whole run - so they know what's at stake. And I would be shocked if they don't make some kind of deal to address it.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

JB: The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies find themselves in an interesting spot - well-positioned for a wild-card berth but trailing the powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. How should they proceed?

JS: They're both in a funny position, because the Dodgers going to win, what, 110 games? The Dodgers are going to win the division - and they both know that. But they also pretty much know that they're going to play in the wild-card game, unless they just collapse.

I think the thinking among most teams, unless it's a really rare combination of circumstances, is if you're headed to that wild-card game, you would be crazy to give up any big piece to make a deal just to play in that game. It's too much of a coin flip. I could see those teams making moves that would address depth, or making moves for pieces that they would control beyond this year.

But rental players? Unless they're an incredible bargain, I just can't see them saying "We're going for it," when going for it just means playing in that game and hoping they survive.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

JB: Switching to the American League, the talk of the first half was New York Yankees phenom Aaron Judge, who swatted an astounding 30 home runs. Is he a shoo-in for AL MVP at this point?

JS: If the season ended now, this would be an easy choice. I'm guessing the season will keep going, so it probably won't be easy. (laughs) Right now, he leads the league in OPS by 146 points. Think about that. He leads the league in adjusted OPS by 25 points. That's just incredible domination. But is he a shoo-in for MVP?

Mike Trout is going to be back at the start of the second half; I would never rule him out. You look at Houston, with Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer - they're all legit MVP candidates depending on how this second half goes. I think this is going to be a fun race.

Judge has had three amazing months. Amazing. And I don't think there's any indication that he's Kevin Maas - that this is some fluke in any way. But it's a long season to keep it going.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

JB: Judge has been the anchor for a Yankees lineup that is in the fight of its life in the competitive AL East. How do you see the division playing out the rest of the way?

JS: I think the Red Sox are going to win the AL East. The last two months, they've been 8 1/2 games better than the Yankees. That's a big number. And they've had to survive a lot of stuff.

They have David Price back now; he's really pitching well. They should get Eduardo Rodriguez back, and he was off to a tremendous start. They're all-in, so they're motivated to fix third base. They're motivated to deepen their bullpen. To me, their arrow is pointing up.

Meanwhile, the Yankees have gone from 15 games over .500 to four games over .500 in, like, three weeks. Long term, the Yankees are about to be a monster and build a monster - but they're a year ahead of schedule. This was not their time. And the Red Sox are all-in.

I do feel like the Rays are better than people think. I look at them and see a team that's less likely to make an impact deal than the Yankees or the Red Sox. The Orioles' rotation is just not good enough. And I love the Blue Jays, I picked them to go to the World Series heading into the season, but they dug themselves into too deep a canyon. It's just not going to be possible to climb out in a division this good.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

JB: Speaking of monsters, the Houston Astros didn't break much of a sweat while building a 16 1/2-game lead in the AL West. Are the Astros in a position where they don't have to do anything at the deadline?

JS: If we were gonna vote on which team is going to trade for a big-name starting pitcher, it would be them.

Even though they have the biggest lead of any team at the break since the 2001 Mariners, what happened to the 2001 Mariners? They didn't win the World Series. There's a lot on the line here; you don't have seasons like this where the stars line up the way they have for that team. You can never assume that this is happening.

But given the youth of their team and the controllability of their key players, they're out looking not just for a top-of-the-rotation starter, but a controllable top-of-the-rotation starter. Gerrit Cole is at the top of their list. They've talked about Sonny Gray, and Justin Verlander, and pretty much any big-time starting pitcher they can control beyond this year.

In the cases of all those guys, it could get too expensive. They might have to drop down into that next tier. But this is a team that is highly motivated to address their rotation. There's just too much uncertainty about Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers Jr. You'd be thrilled to go into any postseason series with those two guys pitching Games 1 and 2, but they've both spent time on the DL two years in a row now.

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

JB: At the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit Tigers appear to be in sell mode. How do you think the Tigers' roster will look Aug. 1?

JS: They're in a really interesting box. I'm going to guess that, in three weeks, they don't look as dramatically different as people seem to be assuming.

They want to sell - but they don't want to blow it up and take three years to get back into contention. So any deal they make would be with an eye toward trying to contend next year. So guys who don't fit beyond this year - J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, maybe Justin Upton - guys like that could move.

Verlander? I really don't see it. Remember, he has a complete no-trade clause. I'm sure he'd go to the Dodgers. But (the Tigers would) want such a big return - and he hasn't pitched like a guy who would merit that return. Ian Kinsler? I don't see the fit. That doesn't seem real likely to me right now. Miguel Cabrera? I'm sure they'd listen, but that's not happening.

I know there have been rumblings about Michael Fulmer, but it would just have to be a massive overpay from somebody. There might not have been a more consistent right-handed starter in the American League in the first half. I guess I just don't see the volume of big deals that people seem to be expecting. I think they'll make a couple, maybe three, but it won't be 10.

(Photo courtesy: Action Images)

JB: Lastly, Jayson, I'd like to get three bold predictions from you for the second half of the season.

JS: I'm going to do that, but here's a warning: I wouldn't say that every single prediction I've ever made has been wrong, but I'm not exactly Nostradamus. The joke has always been that, if I pick your team to win the World Series, the one word that then describes you is "doomed." The Blue Jays are proof of this in recent years.

Here are my predictions: The Brewers will win the NL Central. Who'd have thunk it? But I think that's where we are now. The Royals will make the playoffs. I think they will sneak into the wild-card game against the Rays. And the Astros will win the AL West by, I'm gonna say, 30 games. We haven't seen that in a while.

Jayson Stark talks Quintana, Judge, and the red-hot Astros
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