The Reds have engaged in conversations with the White Sox regarding right-hander Dylan Cease this offseason, per Gordon Wittenmeyer of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Cease, 28 this month, has been among the most discussed trade targets of the offseason to this point, with Chicago GM Chris Getz suggesting yesterday that there’s no club in the majors without at least some level of interest in the right-hander’s services. Wittenmeyer goes on to caution that “nothing concrete” has developed from the discussions between the sides at this point.
The fit certainly makes sense for the Reds. The right-hander is coming off something of a down season in 2023 during which he posted a fairly pedestrian 4.58 ERA, though his 3.72 FIP, elevated .330 BABIP, and unusually low 69.4% strand rate all indicate there may have been some bad luck baked into those results. The idea that Cease may be closer to a front-of-the-rotation arm than his 2023 results indicate is backed up by his phenomenal 2022 campaign, during which he posted a sterling 2.20 ERA with a 3.10 FIP while striking out a whopping 30.4% of batters faced. Overall, Cease has pitched to a 3.54 ERA (121 ERA+) with a 3.40 FIP in 97 starts since the start of the 2021 season, striking out 29.8% of batters faced while walking 10.1% along the way.
That sort of playoff-caliber starter would provide a major boost to a Reds club that struggled to a rotation ERA of 5.43 this year, bottom three in the majors ahead of only Oakland and Colorado. The club’s situation isn’t quite as dire as that figure may make it seem; the club has an interesting group of young starters headlined by Hunter Greene and Andrew Abbott that also includes the likes of Graham Ashcraft, Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson, and Connor Phillips. The club also recently landed right-hander Nick Martinez on a two-year deal last week, fortifying their rotation depth. That being said, the group offers little certainty aside from Greene, and the addition of a frontline starter such as Cease would take pressure off the club’s younger arms as they look to establish themselves as big league starters.
Cease is far from the only arm the club has looked into who could fill this role. Cincinnati has reportedly discussed a deal for right-hander Shane Bieber with the Guardians while also showing interest in Rays righty Tyler Glasnow. While Cease figures to cost more in terms of prospect capital more than either of those two alternatives, he’s the only one of the trio controllable beyond the 2024 campaign. He also figures to be the cheapest to acquire from a financial perspective, as Cease is projected by MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz to received just $8.8MM in his penultimate trip through arbitration. By contrast, Bieber is projected for a $12.2MM salary in 2024 while Glasnow’s salary for next season is locked in at $25MM.
The Reds are far from the only team engaged on Cease. While Getz’s remark that all 29 other clubs have interest in Cease’s services is surely at least somewhat hyperbolic, the right-hander has garnered plenty of interest this winter with the Dodgers, Cardinals, Mets, Orioles, and Red Sox among the clubs to show interest in the hurler so far this offseason. The Braves have also been connected to Cease frequently over the past several weeks, though more recent reports have downplayed the club’s interest. Even so, the market for Cease is clearly robust, and there have been indications that a deal for the righty may not come together until the top of the rotation market- which includes the likes of Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Blake Snell– has been sorted out.
Cease is not the only player Wittenmeyer suggests the Reds have interest in, as he also connects the club to infielder Jeimer Candelario. That the Reds have interest in Candelario’s services is nothing new, as the sides were linked last month at the outset of free agency. At the time, it seemed likely that the club’s interest in Candelario may have been predicated on a trade from the club’s glut of infielders that already includes Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, Matt McLain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Jonathan India, and Spencer Steer. While such a deal has not yet materialized, it seems possible the club’s plans may not be so simple. While not discussing the switch-hitting Candelario specifically, Krall told reporters (as relayed by Wittenmeyer) recently that the club “could add a switch-hitter that plays the infield” to their positional mix, with such a move allowing the Reds to “push Steer to the outfield more” often.
Candelario, 30, would add some balance to the club’s righty-dominated infield mix. Only De La Cruz (a fellow switch-hitter) ever bats from the left side among Cincinnati’s bevy of young infielders, though lefties TJ Friedl and Jake Fraley both help to balance the overall lineup somewhat as members of the club’s outfield mix. Candelario, who hit .251/.336/.471 overall last season with the Nationals and Cubs, could be in line of a three- or four-year deal this offseason according to Wittenmeyer. That’s in line with MLBTR’s prediction of a four-year, $70MM deal that earned Candelario the #13 spot on our annual Top 50 MLB free agents list.
The Angels, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays and Nationals are among the other clubs Candelario has been connected to this offseason, though it’s worth noting that Arizona subsequently landed Eugenio Suarez in a trade with the Mariners, likely taking them out of the sweepstakes for the third baseman. Despite that interest, Wittenmeyer suggests that Candelario’s market, like that of many upper-level positional free agents, has been held up by the bidding on two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani. Ohtani has commanded the attention of big-market clubs such as the Jays, Angels, Dodgers, Cubs and Giants to this point in the offseason, and as such it’s hardly a surprise that the league’s other top free agent hitters prefer to wait out Ohtani’s free agency in case one of those teams looks to pivot after missing out on the superstar.