Dylan Cease trade grades: Huge haul from Padres justifies White Sox’ wait to deal ace

The Padres spent the offseason shedding payroll after a disappointing year, dealing star Juan Soto to the Yankees and showing no interest in retaining reigning Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.

It was otherwise a quiet winter in San Diego — until Wednesday.

The NL West team agreed to acquire starter Dylan Cease from the White Sox, outbidding the Rangers and sending two prospects back to Chicago.

Cease was the AL Cy Young runner-up in 2022, but his trade value took a hit after an underwhelming 2023 campaign. Still, the White Sox held off on dealing their ace throughout the offseason, knowing they had leverage with Cease under team control through 2025.

Did the return make the wait worthwhile for the White Sox? Here’s a look at how both teams walked away from Wednesday’s deal.

MORE: Full details as Padres acquire Dylan Cease 

Dylan Cease trade grades

Padres grade: B+

  • Padres receive: SP Dylan Cease

The trade sends a signal to Padres fans that the organization isn’t simply giving up after plans to cut payroll and the death of owner Peter Seidler.

While it was a quiet winter for San Diego, there were still more than a few intriguing pieces on the roster. If the Padres aren’t going to rebuild, they might as well do what they can to contend. Cease makes that possible.

Soto was a significant loss, but the Padres’ lineup remains fairly formidable — especially with Manny Machado and Jake Cronenworth as bounce-back candidates. It was the rotation that put postseason contention in doubt ahead of 2024. Joe Musgrove is a strong frontline starter, but Yu Darvish’s age and 2023 regression along with the uncertainty of the more unproven pitchers acquired from the Yankees made the rest of the group one massive question mark.

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Now, a 1-2-3-4 of Joe Musgrove, Cease, Michael King and Darvish gives San Diego something to hold onto. The trade also improves depth, as the Padres don’t necessarily need all of those young arms, namely Brito and Vasquez, to step in and perform right away. Cease is under control through 2025, so the Padres have a year to take stock of what they have and either build up the roster in 2025 or trade Cease for assets the same way they did with Soto.

The Padres loaded up on pitching in the Soto deal, acquiring King, Brito, Vasquez and Drew Thorpe as part of the return. Using one of those four pieces as a trade chip for a more established starter is pretty sensible.

Thorpe is an impressive prospect and was arguably the headliner of the Padres’ return for Soto alongside King. He’s also still a bit of time away from the majors, having just reached Double-A at the end of 2023. By stockpiling those arms, San Diego put itself in a position to part with one or two and still have solid depth. 

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The deal doesn’t come without risk for the Padres. If Thorpe progresses at the rate he did in 2023, he very well could become a cheaper, more controllable version of Cease. The Friars also lost more depth by dealing Iriarte while trading away a steady reliever in Steven Wilson. If the team doesn’t go all-in at some point during Cease’s time in San Diego, there will be questions about whether it was all worthwhile. 

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Durable starters who miss bats are hard to find, though. Cease has been healthy throughout his MLB career and has struck out more than 11 batters per nine innings over his last three seasons. That’s something the Padres can work with, and Cease’s underlying numbers indicate his rough 2023 in the shadow of constant trade rumors was likely an aberration.

White Sox grade: A

  • White Sox receive: P Drew Thorpe, P Jairo Iriarte, RP Steven Wilson, OF Samuel Zavala

The White Sox held out for the right deal before trading Cease, and they did well for themselves in spite of their ace’s difficult 2023 season.

It’s hard not to like Thorpe. The only knock right now might be that the sample size is small, considering he was drafted in 2022. He’s also an older prospect for someone with just five starts above Single-A. The numbers are hard to dispute, though.

Thorpe, 23, went 14-2 with a 2.52 ERA and 182 strikeouts across 23 minor-league starts in 2023, posting a 0.98 WHIP. If the White Sox are confident in their development system, they know the potential is there for Thorpe to become a high-end starter.

Iriarte, 22, is similarly an older prospect for his limited experience above A-ball, but he struck out 12.8 batters per nine innings last season. If it weren’t for control issues, his Double-A numbers (15.6 K/9, 6.4 hits per nine) would look outstanding. For a secondary piece, the White Sox will take their chances.

Zavala, the Padres’ No. 7 prospect, is simply a lottery ticket. He hit 14 home runs and posted a .797 OPS between two minor-league levels in 2023 despite not turning 19 until mid-July. While his strikeout rate was high at 27.2 percent, the potential is clearly there. It’s fair to have concerns about the White Sox’ track record of developing bats.

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Chicago likely won’t be close to contention in 2024, so the organization gets some credit for making sure the reliever acquired in the deal is controllable. Wilson is under contract through 2027, making him a tradeable asset at the very least.

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The White Sox have been down this road before. They traded Chris Sale for Michael Kopech (and more), looking for Kopech to take Sale’s place and become a frontline starter. That hasn’t panned out as well as expected.

They also dealt Jose Quintana for Cease and Eloy Jimenez, hoping Cease could become the ace of the staff. That largely worked, even if this ending isn’t what the franchise envisioned.

There’s no reason Thorpe can’t be next in line for a White Sox team that wouldn’t have contended with or without Cease in 2024 — and likely 2025 as well. The rest of the return is even more reason to like this deal for Chicago.

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