White Sox brass made it clear during the Winter Meetings that they were in no rush to trade the ace of their pitching staff.
Simultaneously, perhaps, they might have been busy making it clear that it would cost teams an awful lot to acquire Dylan Cease.
“I don’t know if the message needed to be put out there, quite honestly, just because everyone knows how impactful Dylan Cease is in this league,” White Sox general manager Chris Getz said in Nashville. “But you have a certain threshold as an organization on a return on someone like Dylan Cease. And if there’s an opportunity to strengthen our club and plug some holes, which we need to do and continue to look for opportunities to do that, we have to consider it.”
So what’s the threshold?
It was reported during the Winter Meetings that conversations with the Reds involved the White Sox looking for pitchers Rhett Lowder and Chase Petty, two of the Reds’ top six prospects, according to the rankers at MLB.com. More recently, it was reported the asking price included three top-100 prospects — Lowder (No. 41, per MLB.com), shortstop Edwin Arroyo (No. 57) and pitcher Connor Phillips (No. 68) — plus at least one other prospect.
That strikes as steep, not that it shouldn’t be, considering Cease’s value as a relatively affordable, controllable ace-type starting pitcher.
Getz is obviously attempting to find a path to long-term success for a White Sox team that lost 101 games last season, when Rick Hahn’s yearslong rebuilding project cratered and prompted rare change atop the organization’s baseball department. But the cupboard wasn’t exactly well stocked, and despite promising youngsters like Colson Montgomery, Bryan Ramos and Noah Schultz and a group of interesting minor leaguers acquired at the trade deadline, the future remains murky. Getz is attempting a dramatic makeover of the organization and is looking to establish a new identity for a White Sox team he said hasn’t had one in recent years. Plus, he’s in the middle of addressing a big league roster full of holes.
It’s a big to-do list. And that’s where Cease could come in handy.
While Luis Robert Jr. is truly the team’s most attractive asset and someone who would command a gargantuan return package after a breakout, MVP-type 2023 season, his four years of club control make him part of Getz’s long-term planning. Cease is similarly attractive, thanks in part to two remaining years of club control, but even two years might not be enough for Cease to star for the next contending team on the South Side. A trade figures to be able to fetch young players who could fit into the schedule much better.
But how likely is it that Getz gets what he’s reportedly asking for?
Hahn’s own rebuilding effort was kickstarted by a trio of trades that sent All-Star level big leaguers out of town in exchange for talent-rich prospect packages. He shipped Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoán Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others. Adam Eaton fetched Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dane Dunning from the Nationals during the same offseason. And a year later, at the trade deadline, José Quintana went to the Cubs, bringing back Cease, Eloy Jiménez and more.
That reported list of Reds prospects would probably top them all, making one wonder if the ask is possibly unrealistic. After all, while Cease has piled up innings and strikeouts during his major league career and finished second in the AL Cy Young vote just last year, he doesn’t exactly have the resume of Sale, who was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball and best in club history when he was traded. Plus, Sale had three years of club control left when he switched his Sox.
Getz, too, reportedly coveted Ryan Pepiot, the young pitchers who just went from the Dodgers to the Rays in the Tyler Glasnow trade. That deal, though, hinged on Glasnow agreeing to a contract extension to stay in LA, which he’ll do for the next five years. That meant more control than what the White Sox could offer on Cease, who seemed more valuable than Glasnow originally, when Glasnow only had one remaining year of club control with the Rays. Would the Dodgers have been willing to part with Pepiot for only two years of Cease?
Of course, the market dictates what’s a fair asking price and what isn’t. Getz is in plenty of control, considering his stated opinion that he doesn’t have to deal Cease soon or at all by the offseason’s end. Hanging onto Cease until the trade deadline might prove more fruitful, what with far fewer alternatives for any pitching-hungry club that might finally consider meeting Getz’s demands.
Indeed, that has been the expectation since early this month, when before the Winter Meetings even started, reports signaled Getz intended to wait until the dust settled on derbies for the top free-agent starting pitchers before moving Cease. The last month has been slow on that front, with the exception of a trio of major moves, all made by the Dodgers, who now employ Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Glasnow. Those movesleft the group of potential Cease suitors basically the same. Even the Dodgers, loading up as baseball’s new Death Star, can’t seem to be counted out of anything, as two years of Cease will cost whatever team has him relatively little in terms of dollars.
White Sox fans are begging that Getz can find a trade partner in the Orioles, with their loaded farm system of top-ranked position players. But remember what Getz had to say during the GM meetings in November.
“(Any trade of Cease has) got to make sense,” he said in Arizona. “We’ve got a rotation that needs to fill out. We’ve got some young arms in our system that are maturing. I don’t want to rush them to the major leagues. I think that’s unfair to them and unfair to the White Sox.
“Certainly any return for any player — if we’re trying to address the pitching needs that we have — it needs to make sense. So in any deal, filling out the rotation is certainly at the forefront.”
Those comments came before the White Sox landed Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster in a trade with the Braves and before they inked Erick Fedde to a free-agent deal, addressing the rotation with both moves. But a remaining priority on pitching could potentially dash dreams, however unrealistic they might be, of the White Sox installing some franchise cornerstones with the fruits of the Orioles’ rebuilding project.
Outside of the Orioles, other previously reported-to-be-interested parties include the Braves and Cardinals, along with the aforementioned Reds and Dodgers. The Yankees, Mets, Giants, Red Sox and Blue Jays all wanted Yamamoto; might they still be in the market for starting-pitching help? Do any of those teams have what it takes to meet Getz’s asking price? Do they want to meet it?
Of course, even with Yamamoto and Glasnow snapped up by the Dodgers, there are other arms out there. Reigning NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell remains a free agent, as does World Series champ Jordan Montgomery. Who knows how likely it is that either Shane Bieber or Corbin Burnes gets traded, but their names have popped up in offseason rumors and could most definitely have an effect on Cease’s market.
It’s still a lot of unknown, a lot of dominoes that might need to fall, and the White Sox aren’t guaranteed to trade Cease at all.
“I think we’re in a position of leverage right now because I don’t think we have to trade Cease,” White Sox assistant general manager Josh Barfield said during the Winter Meetings. “Two years of control, and he’s a really, really good pitcher. He definitely helps us next year.
“But at the same time, we’ve got to be smart. We’ve got to listen on everything. I don’t think we are affected as much, as far as (waiting on free agents to sign). People are going to have interest in Cease. So if we make a move, if we don’t, we’re just going to be patient and wait for the right one.”
If they do make a deal, it will be because some team has deemed Cease worthy enough of parting with some of the highest rated prospects in the sport. That’s the kind of package Getz is reportedly interested in. And that’s the kind of package that can dramatically improve the long-term future of an organization, exactly the thing the White Sox are looking to do.
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