Dylan Ceases Toiling For The White Sox

The Chicago White Sox, despite prior assurances to the contrary, have demonstrated their commitment to organizational torpor by trading Dylan Cease to the San Diego Padres. One can never presume to know how a player feels in the immediate aftermath of a trade, but few trades have an immediate trip to South Korea included, so: Congratulations are due to Dylan Cease, and not only because he’s no longer Sox-bound.

Cease was the last remaining piece of a once-vaunted White Sox rotation that comprised Lance Lynn, a healthy Carlos Rodón, Dallas Keuchel, and Lucas Giolito. Not only have the rest of them gone off to other pastures of varying greenness, they also—with some caveats for health and relative upside for Rodón and Giolito—have not been very good. Depending on your standards, Cease might project to be the exception. He had a Cy Young–caliber 2022, pitching to a 2.20 ERA in spite of a league-leading total of 78 walks, and only lost out because Justin Verlander had a 1.75 ERA. When Cease is on, he looks unhittable; a slider like his just has that effect on hitters. Even when he’s having an off-day, he can be aesthetically pleasing to watch.

Nothing about 2022 screamed fluke: His walk rate hurt his FIP and, in turn, his fWAR calculations, but his xERA was still a very good 2.70. But in 2023 Cease had a 4.58 ERA, and while he had similar strikeout rates (27 percent; good) and walk rates (10.1 percent; bad), batters hit the ball way harder and his average fastball dropped 1.2 mph. Also, he writes bad poetry. These transgressions, of which the velo drop and the poetry are the most egregious, could be chalked up to the natural ups and downs of being a relatively young pitcher, and even if 2023 was his true form, he still has value as a legit starter, especially if you look slightly bigger-picture. Over three seasons he’s averaging over 170 innings, at about a 4.00 ERA. Just look at what Aaron Nola and even Giolito fetched in this year’s weird-ass starting pitcher free agency.

Unlike Nola and Giolito, Cease is 28 and, most importantly, is still under two years of team control. It’s not a surprise that teams would want him, and would trade solid prospects for him. (I’ll leave the big-name prospect analysis of Drew Thorpe and Jairo Iriarte to Fangraphs.) It is, however, a bit surprising that it was the Padres who ultimately did it. The trade indicates that the Padres are still interested in contending, but you can only be so “interested in contending” once you’ve traded away Juan Soto. Then again, Juan Soto avoided arbitration with the Yankees by signing for $31 million, while Cease carries a mere $8 million pricetag this year, so maybe that explains why the Padres would flip Juan Soto for prospects, including Drew Thorpe, and then trade away some prospects, including Drew Thorpe, for Dylan Cease.

The Padres were well into the luxury tax last year, and are now well under. They lost Peter Seidler, who was notable in being one of the seemingly few owners in Major League Baseball willing to spend big money. It sucks that part of their apparent plan to shed payroll included trading their best player, but bolstering a gutted pitching rotation under these self-imposed constraints—the Padres will be greatly missing Blake Snell, and even Michael Wacha—is a fine move. It also makes sense not to want to fully rebuild while you still have Fernando Tatís Jr., Manny Machado, and Xander Bogaerts on your payroll, but, gah, the Padres still traded Juan Soto, and then traded one of the prospects they got from the Soto trade in order to get Dylan Cease.

Speaking of Juan Soto, the Yankees, who thanks to Gerrit Cole’s iffy UCL, are also looking to fill out their starting rotation, were reportedly also in on Dylan Cease. According to noted photographer Bob Nightengale, the Yankees did not offer up top outfield prospect Spencer Jones, which clearly did not cut it for the White Sox, who may be in a rebuild, and who may have lost Jason Benetti, but still were in some position to pick and choose what prospects they wished to add to their pipeline. Ah, the Yankees. So sad! Perhaps if the Yankees simply hadn’t traded for Soto, they’d have had Drew Thorpe to offer in exchange for Dylan Cease. Just some food for thought.

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