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In trading Dylan Cease to Padres, White Sox dismantle one future while building new one

Vinnie Duber Avatar
March 13, 2024
Dylan Cease

This is how you jumpstart a rebuild. White Sox fans should be well aware of that by now.

Of course, those fans can certainly be excused for lacking the same level of excitement they possessed when Rick Hahn made a trio of trades in 2016 and 2017 to kick his rebuilding effort into overdrive. The failure of that project to get off the ground led to the start of a new cycle, with first-year general manager Chris Getz dismantling the core Hahn built in an effort to yield a new competitive era of South Side baseball.

After Hahn shipped Lucas Giolito elsewhere in a sign of things to come at last year’s trade deadline, Getz said goodbye to Tim Anderson as one of his first acts of the offseason.

Now, after a winter’s worth of rumors, he’s said the same to Dylan Cease, trading the cornerstone starting pitcher to the Padres on Wednesday, just shy of two weeks before the start of the regular season.

Cease was discussed as the game’s top trade chip for much of the offseason, but it was aces Tyler Glasnow and Corbin Burnes who bolstered contenders’ pitching staff, traded to the Dodgers and Orioles, respectively. Cease, meanwhile, stayed put, and the idea was that Getz could finally see his reportedly steep asking price met once desperation soared closer to the trade deadline.

Pedro Grifol went as far to name Cease his Opening Day starter in late January. But deep into spring training, Yankees ace and reigning AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole needed an MRI, and the Cease rumor mill started up again, however related those two things might have been. But instead of replacing Cole in The Bronx, Cease will suit up for the Padres, whose season starts in a week with two games against the Dodgers in South Korea.

After waiting out the market, Getz surely believes he got what he was waiting for, a worthy haul for a top-of-the-line pitcher just two seasons removed from finishing second in the AL Cy Young vote and one with two years of club control remaining.

But as is always the case with prospects, time will tell.

The headliner coming back to the White Sox is pitching prospect Drew Thorpe, ranked as the No. 85 prospect in the game by MLB.com and someone changing organizations for the second time in four months. Thorpe was part of the package that went to the Padres when the Yankees landed Juan Soto in December and ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the San Diego system. A second-round pick of the Yankees in 2022, he had a 2.52 ERA in 23 starts for their High A and Double-A affiliates last season.

Joining him is Samuel Zavala, a lefty-hitting teenage outfielder who has only been in the Padres’ organization for three years. He put up some impressive numbers last season playing at both levels of A ball, combining for a .243/.391/.406 slash line to go with 14 homers, 23 doubles, 77 RBIs and 94 walks in 115 games. Zavala, no relation to former White Sox catcher Seby Zavala, was ranked as the No. 7 prospect in the Padres’ system.

Perhaps significantly closer to the big leagues is Jairo Iriarte, another right-handed pitcher included in the deal, who’s been in the Padres’ organization since 2018 and was ranked as the No. 8 prospect in their system. He pitched in 27 games last season, making 21 starts, and finished with a 3.49 ERA between High A and Double-A.

Also included in the return package is 29-year-old big league reliever Steven Wilson, who made 102 appearances, almost all of them out of the bullpen, over the last two seasons. He had a 3.91 ERA in 53 innings last season.

Both Thorpe and Iriarte get added to the fleet of promising young arms who have joined the White Sox’ organization in the last eight months, a group including Nick Nastrini, Jake Eder, Jordan Leasure, Ky Bush and Jared Shuster.

Team all those names with Colson Montgomery, the White Sox’ prized prospect ranked No. 9 in all of baseball by MLB.com, highly regarded catching prospect Edgar Quero and 2022 first-round pick Noah Schultz, and the White Sox can start to envision what the future might look like.

But certainly that hope for what’s next is accompanied by the continued shock and disappointment of what never developed.

Cease’s departure is the latest and might not be the last. While Getz has repeated multiple times that Luis Robert Jr., the MVP-type center fielder with four years of club control left, is the kind of player you build around, the other players supposed to power Hahn’s vision of a perennial contender have either already left or could be readying for their final season on the South Side.

The White Sox have decisions to make on oft-injured batsmen Yoán Moncada and Eloy Jiménez, whose team options get increasingly expensive, at the close of this season. Meanwhile, Michael Kopech’s struggles in the starting rotation have thrown into question whether he’ll ever become the dominant pitcher who was promised when he was acquired in the first of Hahn’s rebuild-launching trades in 2016.

That’s the state of the franchise, in the big picture. But now, Grifol and the White Sox are faced with a pitching staff missing an ace.

The rotation figures to include free-agent signings Erick Fedde and Chris Flexen, plus offseason trade acquisition Michael Soroka. Kopech seemed a sure thing, too, but last week Grifol made comments indicating that Kopech’s spot in the rotation was not guaranteed at this stage of camp. Meanwhile, Garrett Crochet’s quest to jump from the bullpen to the rotation has featured multiple dominant performances in Cactus League games.

Plenty can happen between now and when the team leaves camp, including the possibility of more outside additions, with The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reporting that the White Sox are interested in signing free-agent pitcher Michael Lorenzen.

But in trading Cease after an offseason spent adding low-cost, high-character and defense-oriented players, it’s as apparent as ever that 2024 will be a rebuilding year for the White Sox. That doesn’t make it unimportant, though, as Getz and his front office will learn an awful lot about where the team stands and how close contention is. The organization-wide makeover is about more than constructing a 26-man roster at the major league level, and Getz has prioritized establishing an identity for the White Sox where one did not exist before.

This might be a familiar place for White Sox fans, watching an elite player leave town in exchange for the promise of future success, and any hesitancy would be understandable. But much like Hahn before him, Getz is surely hoping this was necessary in making sure days like this don’t have to happen again.

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