At some point during trawling through old articles for quotes about Carlos Quentin, it occurred to me that my fascination with just how insane his career was might not be matched by the populace, at least not to the point of justifying an entire post just about him during the height of rumor and offseason planning season.
Yet ever since Brian Anderson alluded to Carlos Quentin taking practice swings while naked in the shower, or chewing his fingernails until they bled, I've become convinced we're missing out on a great book, or at least a lazy oral history of the 2008 season. Profiles and heavy quoting of Quentin didn't really start popping up until he gave everyone a reason to seek them. He was Baseball America's No. 20 global prospect entering 2006, but an up-and-down and injury-riddled couple of years trying to break onto the MLB club, and a stacked outfield put him on the outs with the Diamondbacks. A combination of sterling academic performance at Stanford, his brooding nature and inability to immediately translate raw tools into production gained him the reputation of being overly cerebral and unable to play loose.
Quentin relished the fresh slate he was given in Chicago and the opportunity for regular playing time provided by a vacated outfield, and flourished in 2008 despite his bizarre behavior and tendency for flagellation. There was hue and cry about the Sox failure to reign him in when his foolishly self-applied wrist injury derailed an MVP campaign and put the Sox AL Central drive on life support. But the attitude the season after, even as Quentin was on his way to a tortured and injury-plagued 2009, was of such joy that a young, All-Star hitter had dropped in their laps, that they dared not question his methods:
This stretch of good feelings about Quentin is why we often think of him as a waster talent, someone who could have made more than two All-Star teams and led multiple Sox playoff campaigns, but with the quick dissolution of his career and his retirement this season at the tender age of 32 due to nagging injuries, his history now reads like someone who was lucky enough to have everything coalesce for five blissful months before all of his problems inevitably ganged up on him.
He returned from a plantar fascitis-marred 2009 to regular action in 2010, but was noticeably slowed on defense and the basepaths, and prone to more graceless contact with the ground that exacerbated his fragility. Mark Kotsay's struggles opened up some suggestion of Quentin at DH, but Ozzie Guillen was quick to try to pooh-pooh the idea of sitting in the dugout with CQ for three hours.
When the 2010 offensive results never came, and preseason promises of a new, lighter and fun-loving Carlos regularly dissipated, he became the target of the same critiques he got in Arizona, when Greg Walker called him an "over-analyzer" and "a student of the mechanics of the swing, sometimes to a fault."
From there, the trail runs cold. Quentin dragged the moribund 2011 offense for a while, but cooled off dramatically in second half as the Sox tried to lurch back into the race, and when a sprained AC joint in his shoulder effectively ended his season after 118 games, he was on the outs with a franchise that was looking to transition to Dayan Viciedo. His bat returned to near-full strength after being traded to San Diego, but he never so much as reached 90 games in a season again.
The White Sox saw fit to abandon Quentin and turn the keys to right field over to Dayan Viciedo to start 2012, a decision that seems ill-fated in retrospect but was risky for different reasons at the time. Viciedo was at least a revered prospect, and the Sox were continuing with journeyman Alejandro De Aza based mostly on a hot month and a half, and counting on Adam Dunn to bounce back from one of the worst seasons ever. De Aza fit the bill for 2012 and Dunn bounced back, but Quentin would have provided insurance. Instead they traded him for a return that seemed like a calculated risk, then turned out to be a complete disaster when Simon Castro's White Sox career lasted for 6.2 innings.
Two and a half years is a short time to go from having the run of the place to being sold off like a used car they need to get off the lawn, but Quentin reads as a sort of ridiculous day-to-day presence to deal with if he wasn't carrying franchise. Even in his craziness, looking back on him now is a chilling warning about sure things in baseball, the unnatural shape and length that career primes take, and just how precarious of a position the Sox put themselves letting this core twist in the wind while the fail to develop or pay for a competent second half of their roster.
Mostly I just want to know more about Quentin. Of all the White Sox offensive centerpieces who never came to be, he was the best.