Padres land Cease in blockbuster with White Sox

March 14th, 2024

PEORIA, Ariz. -- The Padres finished Spring Training and left for Korea on Wednesday -- but not before pulling off a major late-spring blockbuster.

San Diego acquired ace right-hander Dylan Cease from the White Sox, the Padres announced Wednesday night, moments before their plane was slated to depart for next week’s season-opening Seoul Series. In return, they sent three of their Top 10 prospects and righty reliever Steven Wilson to Chicago. Here is the trade in full:

Padres receive: RHP
White Sox receive: RHP (MLB Pipeline's No. 85 prospect; SD No. 5), OF (SD No. 7), RHP (SD No. 8), RHP

“It's hard to give up the names that we gave up,” said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. “We think very highly of Drew Thorpe, Iriarte, Zavala and Wilson. But a guy like Dylan Cease was the right pitcher at the right time for this team.”

Cease, who will earn $8 million this season, is under club control through 2025. He has posted a 3.83 ERA across five big league seasons, including a second-place finish for the American League Cy Young Award in 2022.

The 2023 season was a down year for Cease, in which he notched a 4.58 ERA, though his peripheral numbers indicate he might've dealt with a bit of bad luck. Cease recorded a 3.72 FIP, while striking out 214 hitters in 177 innings. In San Diego, he’ll be pitching in front of a better defense in a more pitcher-friendly environment.

A bounce-back year from Cease would bolster the Padres’ rotation in a big way. He'll slot in at the top, alongside right-handers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove, essentially replacing Blake Snell, who departed via free agency. Here’s how the San Diego rotation might line up to start the season:

  1. Darvish
  2. Musgrove
  3. Cease
  4. Michael King
  5. Jhony Brito

Last year, the rotation posted a Major League-best 3.69 ERA. But after losing Snell, Michael Wacha, Nick Martinez and Seth Lugo, the Padres needed to reinforce that group over the winter. In the Juan Soto trade, they added four pieces -- King, Brito, Randy Vásquez and Thorpe.

Still, Preller remained in search of that front-line arm that could turn his rotation into one of the sport’s best again. He appears to have found it in Cease.

Cease arrived at Padres camp in Peoria on Thursday before a scheduled flight to join the team in Korea, where the Padres open the season with two games against the Dodgers, March 20-21. The team has already announced Darvish and Musgrove as the starters for those games, and it’s unlikely this move would alter that plan.

Cease has been building up on a different schedule, after all. Taking the ball amid swirling trade rumors, he pitched 3 1/3 frames of one-run ball against the Reds on Tuesday night, moving his Cactus League ERA to 2.16.

“I think the way I’ve pitched this spring has probably increased [the trade talk] a little bit,” Cease said after that start. “I've been really locked in.”

In the aftermath of the deal, the Padres were especially pleased that they held on to their top four prospects, though Thorpe, Zavala and Iriarte are all highly regarded. Pitching in big league camp for the first time this spring, both Thorpe and Iriarte were excellent. Wilson, meanwhile, figured to serve as one of the team’s primary setup men. His absence leaves the bullpen somewhat thin.

But the Padres felt the price was worth it for an arm like Cease. In each of the past three seasons, Cease has made his full contingent of starts, leading the American League twice in that category. He’s racked up more than 200 strikeouts in all of those seasons.

"He brings a lot to the table," Preller said. "He brings the ability to miss bats. ... It's a power repertoire, but power with durability."

There are still plenty of questions elsewhere on a San Diego roster that saw several significant departures during the winter. The outfield is thin, and the bullpen looks volatile (particularly with the ever-reliable Wilson headed to Chicago).

But this was a roster that, entering the offseason, was riddled with rotation questions. As the Padres began their trek across the world on Wednesday night, they had answered those questions resoundingly.