In 2023, José Quintana returned to the Mets where his MLB career began as an international signee in 2006. During his career that has spanned over a decade, Quintana has been nothing if not consistent. In eight of his last ten seasons, he has made at least 30 starts and he has pitched over 200 innings four different times. That stability is what the Mets were banking on when they signed the veteran lefty to a two-year, $26 million contract last offseason as he came off his best season yet in 2022 from a run prevention perspective.
Of course, we all remember what happened instead. In spring training, Quintana experienced side tightness and the source of the problem was eventually discovered: a lesion on his ribs that required bone graft surgery. It was a freak injury and also a scary one. Luckily the lesion was benign and Quintana’s surgery was successful. He resumed throwing in mid-May, but at that point the Mets had already used nine different starting pitchers with the veterans they were counting on all missing various lengths of time. But it took a long time for Quintana to ramp up and for him to get used to the pitch clock and the new rules.
Quintana made his Mets debut on July 20 in a 6-2 loss to the White Sox—the team for which he made his big league debut in 2012. He pitched well, allowing two runs on six hits through five innings of work and throwing 53 of his 77 pitches for strikes. By then, the fourth-place Mets were floundering, clinging desperately to the edges of contention where one squints their eyes and can maybe make out a late wild card run. But a week after Quintana’s debut, the Mets traded David Robertson to the Miami Marlins—the first signal that they were to be sellers at the deadline. The more notable trades of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander followed and soon Quintana was the Mets’ number two starter.
The good news is Quintana pitched exactly like the mid-rotation arm the Mets were expecting in the second half, showing no signs that his injury had any lasting effects on his repertoire, which features a sinker that plays off his four-seam fastball, a curveball, and an occasional changeup. He threw his sinker more often in 2023 and his fastball less often than he has in the recent past and the results were excellent in the second half after his return from injury; he posted a 3.57 ERA over 13 starts and was like a breath of fresh air for a rotation that had been drowning. His strikeout, walk, and home run rates were also not significantly different from his phenomenal 2022 season—another encouraging sign moving forward. Despite not working with high octane stuff, Quintana continued to do what he does best: limiting hard contact with barrel and hard hit percentages among the best in the league.
One could argue Quintana finds himself in a similar position entering the 2024 season as he did when he made his debut in 2023: the stable presence in a rotation full of question marks. After his massive rookie season, Kodai Senga is inarguably the ace of the staff heading into 2024, but Quintana is the only other returning member of the rotation and the member of the rotation with the longest track record of success in the big leagues. The Mets have signed free agents Luis Severino and Sean Manaea to fill roles in the rotation, but both players carry risk and have not been known for their consistency despite their upside. Adrian Houser, who the Mets acquired in trade from the Brewers, rounds out the rotational depth chart, but he has never made more than 26 starts in a big league season. As a pitcher who is reliant on soft contact for success and whose stats like expected ERA and FIP have been higher than his ERA over his recent run of success in the past two seasons, Quintana himself is not without risk. But he probably has the highest floor of any member of the Mets’ rotation and he would not be the first (relatively) soft-tossing lefty to age gracefully into his mid-thirties. Hopefully a fully healthy 2024 season from Quintana will serve as a much-needed anchor for a team with aspirations to at least contend for a Wild Card spot.
For Quintana 2024 also brings a reunion with Carlos Mendoza, who he played with while coming up in the Yankees system as a young player. It’s yet another way his career has come full circle. “Every year [in those days] I would see him around the complex, and he was a great mentor to all the Latin guys at that time,” Quintana said of Mendoza at the Mets’ annual Kids Holiday Party at Citi Field in December. The success of the 2024 Mets will be dependent on Mendoza’s mentorship, but also on Quintana’s performance on the mound.