Breaking down the blockbuster Cease deal from all sides

March 14th, 2024

That White Sox right-hander was traded wasn’t a surprise. That it was the Padres who landed Cease certainly was. San Diego acquired a bat-missing starter not long removed from a second-place Cy Young Award finish, while Chicago added an established MLB reliever and three promising prospects as well.

With the help of Padres beat reporter AJ Cassavell, White Sox beat reporter Scott Merkin, executive reporter Mark Feinsand and analyst Mike Petriello, here’s a breakdown of the trade and analysis of what it means for both clubs.

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

Here is a breakdown of this blockbuster deal from all angles, via experts:

Why it makes sense for the Padres
Via Padres beat writer AJ Cassavell

The Padres’ 2023 rotation led the Majors with a 3.69 ERA -- then saw the departures of Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and Nick Martinez in the offseason. As such, it was always a priority for general manager A.J. Preller to revamp his starting pitching. He’s now done that in a big way.

The December trade that sent Juan Soto to New York reinforced the rotation’s depth, with Michael King, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez all set to contribute. The Cease trade, meanwhile, gives the Padres the frontline arm they were looking for to replace Snell.

In the meantime, San Diego didn’t part with any of its top four prospects to acquire Cease, and while the cost beyond that group was high, the Padres' core prospects are still in place to build around.

Cease slots in alongside Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove to form a formidable front three. Plus, he gives the Padres some insurance in case either of those two suffers a recurrence of the injuries that ended their respective 2023 seasons. Despite all the turnover, the Padres again appear to have one of the best rotations in baseball. More >

Why it makes sense for the White Sox
Via White Sox beat writer Scott Merkin

The White Sox are in a rebuild. Not a prolonged rebuild such as the last one, which certainly filled the organization with top-tier prospects but only resulted in two playoff victories. But general manager Chris Getz is trying to build a base of young players and develop a culture within the organization that will net Chicago long-term success.

Cease, aside from , was the best trade chip Getz had to add an instant youthful impact in return. The right-hander is one of the top starting pitchers in the game, having finished second in the 2022 American League Cy Young voting, and one of the most durable with 97 starts combined over his last three seasons. He looked great during 2024 Cactus League outings and has two years of contractual control, increasing an already significant value.

Getz could not miss on this deal and took his time to listen to offers basically since November. He didn’t budge on his lofty ask, ultimately going with the best pitching return in right-handers Thorpe and Iriarte, along with a 19-year-old high-upside outfielder in Zavala. They also brought in Wilson, who will help the White Sox bullpen immediately. Cease handled the situation as well as anyone could in dealing with the constant rumors, and the White Sox kept him informed along the way. He wasn’t a player the White Sox wanted to trade, but they had to given where they reside as a team. More >

Prospect profile
Via MLB Pipeline

RHP Drew Thorpe (No. 85 on Top 100)
Age: 23 in 2024
Height: 6’ 4” / Weight: 212 lbs.
Bats: L / Throws: R
MLB ETA: 2024

Scouting grades (on 20-80 scale): Fastball: 50 | Slider: 55 | Changeup: 70 | Control: 60 | Overall: 55

2023 stats
High-A: 18 G, 18 GS, 109 IP, 2.81 ERA, 33 BB, 138 K
Double-A: 5 G, 5 GS, 30.1 IP, 1.48 ERA, 5 BB, 44 K

Thorpe’s 91-95 mph fastball hasn’t wowed much in college or pro ball and would be a borderline below-average pitch if he didn’t spot it so well. His high strikeout numbers are driven by a stellar changeup -- a low-80s offering that he sells exceptionally well before it hits the brakes and fades just before the hitter’s bat. Thorpe’s 82-85 mph slider has good depth, too, giving him an above-average breaking option, and the whole package helped him lead Minor Leaguers (min. 100 IP) with an 18.6 percent swinging-strike rate. Ideally, there’d be a tick or two or more of velocity here, but Thorpe’s pitchability makes him at least a back-end starter in the big leagues. More >

Hot Stove implications
Via executive reporter Mark Feinsand

Neither the Padres nor the White Sox were involved in any bidding for Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery, though the Cease trade could have some potential implications for at least one of the left-handers.

The Rangers were among the teams interested in Cease, and based on the fact that the White Sox had been scouting Texas’ system in recent days, it seemed there was a chance the Rangers might have been heavily in the mix for the right-hander.

With Cease heading to San Diego, the Rangers -- who will be without injured starters Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle for the foreseeable future -- could look to the free-agent market to address their rotation issues.

Montgomery had a successful run in Texas after being acquired at last summer’s Trade Deadline, and many have speculated that the lefty would like to return to the Rangers. A reunion could be in the cards if the two sides can agree on contract terms, and with Cease no longer an option, Texas is running out of options to bolster its rotation.

Diving deep
Via analyst Mike Petriello

On the surface, it looks like Cease took a huge step back from 2022’s 2.20 ERA and second-place Cy Young finish to 2023’s 4.58 ERA clunker. He did, for the record, pitch worse – just not quite by that much. Last year, for example, he had a 3.72 FIP and a 4.07 xERA. If not the sparkling performance we saw in 2022, it’s not an ERA closer to 5 than 4, either.

What we know for sure is A) he’s one of only five starters to strike out 200-plus hitters in each of the last three seasons, and B) he’s leaving a worst-in-baseball Chicago defense (one that cost him eight Outs Above Average behind him) to join a very good San Diego fielding group that has the second-best projected infield defense. He probably won’t repeat having the highest BABIP allowed of any regular pitcher, as he did last year, so expect some improvement in those runs allowed if for no other reason than his teammates alone.

And yet: He did pitch worse in 2023 than in 2022, so what happened last year? The poor team support, yes, but also he lost a tick of velocity on his fastball and, if we can quote ourselves from November, “his deadly slider, which was 2022’s most valuable pitch, went from elite to merely good. He lost some movement on the pitch – it’s straightened out some – and saw the hard-hit rate against it double.”

But he seemed to figure it out a little near the end, allowing only five runs in his final four starts, and given the favorable changes both in defense and ballpark – and perhaps with the influence of a change in coaching staff – it’s easy to see a big step forward in 2024. The various projection systems disagree with one another somewhat, putting him between the 15th and 35th best starter in baseball, but that also means they each agree he’s a solidly above-average starter, with the capacity, based on 2022, for more.

If we can go back to that November article again: “Given the occasional command issues that go with high-end stuff, he’s something of a right-handed, less shiny Blake Snell.” It’s more than a little funny that Snell’s former employer chose to replace him with something that resembles him more than a little. It’s a solid trade, although San Diego fans might well just have preferred bringing Snell back and keeping the prospects.

Stat to know
Via research staff

667: That’s how many strikeouts Cease racked up from 2021 to 2023, a total that ranks him fourth in MLB behind only Gerrit Cole (722), Corbin Burnes (677) and Kevin Gausman (669). As one of just five pitchers with 200+ K’s in each of the past three seasons, Cease is in elite company with his swing-and-miss stuff. Only four Padres pitchers -- including Snell in 2023 -- had more strikeouts in a single season than Cease’s 227 punchouts during a dominant 2022 campaign.