6 interesting trade proposals for Dylan Cease

January 7th, 2024

When it comes to the trade market for starting pitchers, seems to have the most juice, with a number of reports indicating that the White Sox remain likely to deal the right-hander, who turned 28 on Dec. 28.

New general manager Chris Getz is tasked with rebuilding Chicago’s roster after two disappointing seasons and is in a good position to command a solid return for Cease, who offers two years of club control before reaching free agency at the end of 2025. While Cease fell off last year from his AL Cy Young Award runner-up finish in 2022, he still made 32-plus starts and topped 200 strikeouts for the third year in a row.

One possible model for a Cease trade? . In January 2018, Cole was headed into his age-27 campaign, had two years of club control remaining and was coming off a somewhat disappointing (but healthy) season, when the Pirates shipped him to the Astros for four young players: pitchers and , third baseman and outfielder . All but Martin had already reached the Majors, while Musgrove and Moran both had history as Top 100 prospects. (Only Musgrove went on to significant MLB success, mostly after a subsequent trade to San Diego.)

MLB Network insider Joel Sherman, writing for the New York Post, recently reported that the White Sox have been asking for “three premium prospects” for Cease, although there is no guarantee any trade partner would agree to those terms.

So where might Cease land, assuming he is in fact traded prior to Opening Day? We had a group of MLB.com writers break down some possible destinations.

The obvious team: Orioles

Why they make sense: It feels like the Orioles have been looking for that frontline starter as the final piece of the puzzle for years now. But in reality, it’s only been a few months. From last summer, when we wondered if Baltimore would make a blockbuster move at the Trade Deadline, to this offseason, in which we’re wondering how this 101-win team will address the same need, such an acquisition seems inevitable.

Enter Cease, who may be just the right fit for the O’s. Rather than swim at the deep end of the free-agent pool with teams like the Dodgers, Yankees and Mets in competition for stars such as , the smaller-market Orioles, who have the game’s No. 1 farm system per MLB Pipeline, have the prospect capital to make a deal for a guy who finished as the runner-up in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2022.

Potential trade return: C/1B Samuel Basallo (MLB Pipeline’s No. 46 prospect), 2B/OF Connor Norby (Orioles’ No. 7 prospect), LHP Cade Povich (Orioles’ No. 11 prospect), INF

Who says no? Probably the White Sox. The proposed return here is strong, but for Chicago to give up Cease without acquiring Heston Kjerstad (MLB Pipeline’s No. 24 prospect) or Coby Mayo (No. 27 prospect) as part of the package might be tough to swallow. The reported asking price for Cease has been high given his age and two years of team control remaining, and a potential deal could always be revisited at the Trade Deadline. The Orioles, meanwhile, might be averse to dealing from their top four prospects given Baltimore’s ahead-of-schedule success and potential opportunities to bolster the rotation down the line.

-- Manny Randhawa

The 'We’re really going for it' team: Reds

Why they make sense: Similar to the Orioles, the Reds have a youthful, talented group of position players but lack a bona fide No. 1 starter in their rotation. There’s no doubt that has ace potential, but we haven’t seen him perform as such over a prolonged period. Cease would instantly boost a starting staff that was below the league average in strikeout rate (22.0%) and barrel rate (9.0) last year. Cease owns a 28.9% K rate and a 6.2% barrel rate over the past two seasons.

With such a glaring need amid a gifted roster, the time for the Reds to strike is now. They are unlikely to spend the money necessary to land a pitcher like Snell; the Reds have never spent more than $64 million on a free agent. But they do have the prospect depth to pull off a headline-grabbing trade. Cincinnati ended 2023 with four Top 100 prospects, per MLB Pipeline, and might have the best farm system in baseball by the end of 2024.

Potential trade return: 2B , RHP Connor Phillips (MLB Pipeline's No. 68 prospect), RHP Chase Petty (Reds’ No. 6 prospect), RHP Lyon Richardson (Reds’ No. 14 prospect)

Who says no? The Reds. For one thing, president of baseball operations Nick Krall has indicated that the club is unlikely to make a big move between now and the regular season. The Reds could also convince themselves that a rotation featuring Greene, , , , and others is enough to win a wide-open NL Central. However, this deal could put them over the top. It would cost multiple pitching prospects -- which the White Sox are said to want in return for Cease -- but it allows the Reds to hang on to their best Minor League arm, Rhett Lowder. India, under club control through 2026, would fill a need for the White Sox at second base and clear up Cincinnati’s infield logjam.

-- Brian Murphy

The team that’s on to Plan B: Yankees

Why they make sense: No ? How about Gerrit Cole Lite? The Yankees already know what Cease could give them because they get it every five days from their ace. Cole and Cease are the same type of pitcher. They have almost the same arsenal: power fastball, power slider, power curveball. They pitch with a similar style: rising fastballs at the top of the zone, sharp sliders and big dropping curveballs at the bottom. The only big difference between Cole and Cease is that Cole gets his strikeouts with his four-seamer, and Cease gets his K's with his slider. But the point is: You could do a lot worse than a second Gerrit Cole as the consolation prize for Yamamoto and the pitching blockbuster to match your Juan Soto trade.

Potential trade return: SS/2B , INF/OF , C Austin Wells (Yankees' No. 7 prospect), RHP Will Warren (Yankees' No. 8 prospect

Who says no? The Yankees. Let's get this out of the way first: The White Sox would obviously love to get Jasson Domínguez in a blockbuster deal like this, but the Martian should be a non-starter for New York. But the Yankees could still offer Chicago a strong package of young players. Peraza and Wells would give the White Sox up-and-comers at positions staffed by veterans ( and in the middle infield, and at catcher), and Warren is a pitching prospect close to the big leagues who could help replace Cease. But if you're New York, is it worth it to send off a bunch of promising young players for Cease, potentially a higher price than it took to get ? Cease is more controllable than Soto, but Soto is, well, Juan Soto. Maybe Cease's price won't be worth paying.  

-- David Adler

The team that’s under pressure: Cubs

Why they make sense: This seemed like it could be a huge offseason for the Cubs after they lured manager Craig Counsell away from the rival Brewers with a hefty contract. But since then? Crickets. A team that won 83 games last year has not signed a free agent to a Major League deal or pulled off a notable trade. Meanwhile, and are free agents, and already departed for Cincinnati. In other words, the Cubs have serious work to do, even in a winnable NL Central.

One thing they need is what Cease offers: the ability to miss bats. Cubs starters ranked 28th in MLB in whiff rate and 24th in K rate last year, and FanGraphs currently has that group projected in the bottom third of the league overall. Acquiring Cease also would be bringing back a pitcher who was the club’s sixth-round pick in the 2014 Draft and became a top prospect before being traded across town in the deal before the 2017 Deadline. With a highly ranked and rapidly improving farm system, the Cubs can make it happen.

Potential trade return: UTIL/DH , RHP Ben Brown (MLB Pipeline’s No. 86 prospect), 2B James Triantos (Cubs’ No. 9 prospect), OF Brennen Davis (Cubs’ No. 19 prospect)

Who says no? Probably the White Sox, even though Brown has big-time stuff, and Triantos’ stock is on the rise after he crushed the Arizona Fall League. The Sox aren’t in a position where they have to deal Cease now -- they could wait for the Deadline -- so to send him back to the North Side, they might insist on one of the top three prospects from the Cubs’ stacked system (Pete Crow-Armstrong, Cade Horton or Owen Caissie). It’s also not clear where Morel (who might be best suited to DH) would fit on the White Sox roster, unless the club also plans to deal . And Davis, formerly the Cubs’ top prospect, might be more of a lottery ticket after struggling through back-to-back seasons due to injury.

-- Andrew Simon

The team with a bigger plan: Mariners

Why they make sense: The Mariners are seemingly set on the pitching front, but MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi mentioned the possibility earlier this week of Seattle executing a two-step plan, first trading for Cease and then using a controllable arm such as or to acquire an impact bat in a separate deal. The Mariners signed to serve as their everyday designated hitter and reunited with outfielder in a trade with the Giants that also brought veteran pitcher to Seattle. However, they still need to add at least one more offensive threat after hit free agency and after they traded third baseman and left fielder .

Following this course of action might work out better for Seattle than keeping its current rotation intact and signing an expensive free-agent hitter like Bellinger. It would certainly fit with Mariners president of baseball operations (and trade market enthusiast) Jerry Dipoto’s typical M.O.

Potential trade return: OF Gabriel Gonzalez (MLB Pipeline's No. 66 prospect), SS Colt Emerson (Mariners' No. 4 prospect), RHP Emerson Hancock (Mariners' No. 6 prospect), OF Lazaro Montes (Mariners' No. 12 prospect)

Who says no? Likely the White Sox. This is a solid haul, but Gonzalez isn’t an attractive enough headliner in a trade package for someone of Cease’s caliber. The White Sox would likely insist on Seattle building the return around infielder Cole Young (MLB Pipeline's No. 37 overall prospect), catcher Harry Ford (No. 39 overall prospect) or Miller. Young and Ford are the top two prospects in a middling farm system, so we can’t see the Mariners trading them. Moving Miller in this deal, meanwhile, would defeat the purpose of acquiring Cease with the idea of flipping another controllable arm for a hitter.

-- Thomas Harrigan

The 'full throttle' team: Red Sox

Why they make sense: When Boston introduced Craig Breslow as its new chief baseball officer at the beginning of November, team chairman Tom Werner promised a competitive team in 2024, adding: “You know that we’re going to have to be full throttle in every possible way.” To be sure, Breslow has made some notable moves in his first two months on the job -- but nothing to match that rhetoric. Boston, coming off consecutive 78-win, last-place finishes, obviously needs to do more to be considered serious contenders in the rough-and-tumble AL East. Cease would qualify, serving as a potential ace atop a rotation that recently added but subtracted after largely struggling in 2023.

Potential trade return: OF Roman Anthony (MLB Pipeline’s No. 35 prospect), 2B Nick Yorke (Red Sox's No. 6 prospect), RHP Richard Fitts (Red Sox's No. 10 prospect), 1B

Who says no? The White Sox. Anthony, after surging in 2023, is a worthy headliner for this deal, but the rest of the package probably falls a bit short in terms of high-ceiling talent. Chicago also might prefer to acquire more pitching in exchange for Cease, but Boston’s system is quite light in that area. Adding another Top 100 prospect, such as catcher Kyle Teel, would be more likely to entice the White Sox, but probably would be too steep a cost for a Boston club still trying to assemble its next core. If the Red Sox can sign one of the top remaining free-agent starters instead, they could bolster their rotation without chipping away at their future.

-- Andrew Simon

Six more teams to watch

Dodgers: Would they really trade for Cease after already acquiring Yamamoto and this offseason, not to mention ? It seems unlikely, but Ken Rosenthal recently wrote in The Athletic (subscription required) that Los Angeles is among the clubs “possibly in the mix” for Cease, and they have the prospects to pull it off.

Cardinals: This was another team identified by Rosenthal. St. Louis already signed , and early this offseason but arguably still needs another top-of-the-rotation piece.

Mets: Sherman connected Cease to the Mets, who bolstered their farm system at last season’s Trade Deadline and would find Cease’s two years of control a major selling point given their uncertainty heading into 2024.

Giants: They came up disappointingly short on Ohtani and Yamamoto, and Cease would satisfy the need for top-level talent, forming a stellar one-two punch with .

Rangers: With , and all likely out for at least the first few months of the season, Cease would provide rotation stability if Texas can’t re-sign .

Padres: It’s hard to know what to make of them, but they still have a strong farm system and a shaky rotation. Mostly, you can’t count out A.J. Preller when it comes to aggressive moves.