How does Cease deal shape Padres for 2024?

March 14th, 2024

This story was excerpted from AJ Cassavell's Padres Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PEORIA, Ariz. -- This was the scene from a pretty surreal ending to Padres camp:

The team had just finished its final Cactus League game. Six buses lined up outside the Peoria Sports Complex. The majority of the players on the travel roster for the Korea Series lingered around the picnic area on the back patio. The others dressed inside the clubhouse and finished packing their things.

Everyone was just about ready to go. These were your 2024 San Diego Padres, set to take off for Seoul, where they’ll be facing the Dodgers next week to start the baseball season. And then general manager A.J. Preller said: “Cease.”

(Sorry, I just had to.)

In case you missed it, the Padres pulled off a blockbuster Wednesday night, landing ace right-hander Dylan Cease from the White Sox in exchange for three of their top-10 prospects and righty reliever Steven Wilson.

After an offseason full of trade speculation with very little payoff, the Padres added to their roster in a big way. And they might not be done either. Here’s a look at the Cease trade and what it means to San Diego:

1. The Padres are going for it… in 2024

No, they didn’t mortgage the farm to acquire Cease. They held onto all of their top four prospects, plus this year’s top-ranked international prospect Leodalis De Vries (who I heard drew interest from Chicago as well).

Nonetheless, the Padres ponied up some impressive prospects to acquire a pitcher with two years of team control. You don’t do that if you don’t think you can compete this season.

And why shouldn’t they feel that way? Sure, the Dodgers remain the favorite in the National League West. But the Padres still have an offensive core led by Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts. Now their rotation suddenly looks formidable. Reach the postseason with Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Cease in a short series, and that’s a solid recipe.

2. Cease is a like-for-like replacement for Blake Snell

Dominant stuff. High strikeout volume. Shaky control. Sound familiar?

In San Diego, Cease should enjoy plenty of the comforts that helped make Snell so effective. It’s a pitcher-friendly environment. The Padres’ infield defense is one of the best in baseball.

Cease finished second in the American League Cy Young race in 2022, a year before Snell won the award in the National League. Despite a down year in ’23 for Cease, there are reasons to believe he’ll bounce back in a big way in San Diego.

3. Answers in the rotation, questions elsewhere

The Padres entered the offseason in dire need of rotation solutions. They’ve found those. With the additions of Cease, Michael King, Jhony Brito and Randy Vásquez, this rotation is a strength again.

But the rebuilt rotation comes at the expense of other spots on the roster. The Juan Soto trade seriously thinned the Padres’ outfield. The Cease trade takes Wilson -- one of the few reliable arms in an otherwise volatile bullpen -- out of the mix. Then again …

4. Preller might not be done

Sources have indicated that Preller remains in search of outfield help. Even with Jackson Merrill seemingly locked into the center-field job, the Padres could use another bat -- probably a corner outfield/DH type. Veteran free-agent outfielder Tommy Pham fits the bill and has been linked with the Padres.

There probably won’t be any further additions that would impact the team’s Opening Day roster in Korea. But the Padres have another Opening Day roster to set, prior to their Petco Park opener against the Giants on March 28.

“We'll set the roster [for Korea], and then we'll set the roster a second time,” Preller said. “But we like our group. We like where we're at. We like the guys we have. This was just -- the ability to acquire someone like Dylan Cease, add another horse to the front of our rotation, we couldn't pass that up.”