Unlike Sale, whose fastball velocity declined in 2016 (perhaps because he made more of a conscious effort to pitch to contact but perhaps because he simply wasn’t throwing as hard), Quintana averaged a career-high 92.0 mph with his fastball. There are no signs that he is due to regress. And Buster’s right: In what looks like a weak AL Central aside from the Indians in the coming years, the White Sox might be contenders sooner than most rebuilding jobs, especially if they can dig into the lucrative free-agent market that will arrive after the 2018 season.

Anyway, Quintana remains a valuable trade chip, and deals will be discussed. Let’s see if we can find one that might work.

Houston Astros: This is the team everybody mentions as a potential trade partner. The Astros have improved their lineup, and adding Quintana alongside Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and a healthy Lance McCullers would make for a nice rotation. Any deal would have to start with Francis Martes, Houston’s top prospect and one of the top pitching prospects in the minors. He pitched in Double-A last season, so he isn’t far away.

Four teams that could have been fits (Blue Jays, Yankees, Astros, Rockies) all turned elsewhere. So the theme I heard most from executives and agents is this: Encarnacion should stop counting money he never had, take a short or creative deal with a team like Cleveland or Texas, and then try this again next winter, with no qualifying offer attached.

The Pirates and Nationals got so far down the line on a deal to send McCutchen to Washington — for a package that would have been extremely close to what the Nationals offered for both Chris Sale and Adam Eaton — that some of the Pirates’ delegation thought it was on the verge of happening. But once the Nationals decided they preferred Eaton and pivoted away, the Pirates had a whole different sort of challenge on their hands.

By which we mean … damage control.