Trade chatter on White Sox ace Dylan Cease has died down over the past month amid reports that first-year general manager Chris Getz has set an extremely high asking price and has shown no willingness to back down, even as the season draws nearer. Getz himself threw more cold water on the possibility of trading Cease today, plainly telling the Sox beat: “I expect [Cease] to be our Opening Day starter” (X link via Chuck Garfien of NBC Sports Chicago).
Like the majority of baseball executives, Getz didn’t speak in absolutes. There’s always the chance of a late offer that’s simply too good to turn down — particularly if a contending team loses a starting pitcher to a long-term injury this spring and feels emboldened to make a trade that was previously deemed too costly.
That said, Getz also didn’t need to go out of his way to frame it as likely that Cease would be on the Opening Day roster, either. Choosing to voice that is a firmer stance than speaking in generalities about remaining open-minded and considering all avenues. That’s the route Getz took just one month ago, publicly stating that a Cease trade could potentially come in the offseason, at the deadline or even at an atypical time like May or June, if the right offer presented itself then.
Entering the offseason, Cease stood out as one of the likeliest trade candidates on the market. The White Sox fired longtime GM Rick Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams last summer, promoting Getz from assistant GM. He began the offseason making clear that the Sox would be open for business, even going so far as to candidly state, “I don’t like our team.” The South Siders have indeed proven active, trading relievers Aaron Bummer and Gregory Santos, acquiring young outfielder Dominic Fletcher and swinging a trade for veteran catcher Max Stassi.
Many of the Sox’ dealings have focused on improving the defense; Getz said in today’s media session that early talks with free agent pitchers this winter showed a reluctance to sign in Chicago because of the team’s poor glovework (X link via CHGO’s Vinnie Duber). Recognizing that limitation, Getz acquired Nicky Lopez and glove-first infield prospect Braden Shewmake (in the Bummer deal), signed Paul DeJong, and landed a pair of catchers with good defensive reputations (Stassi and free agent Martin Maldonado). Fletcher, acquired from the D-backs in exchange for pitching prospect Christian Mena, is regarded as a plus defender at all three outfield spots.
Amid all that roster shuffling, there was a general expectation that Cease would eventually be moved. That no longer seems nearly so certain. There’s clear risk in hanging onto the 28-year-old righty. A spring or early-season injury could prove catastrophic for the Sox, tanking the value of their clear best trade chip. At the same time, trading Cease this summer won’t necessarily reduce the asking price, particularly if teams simply weren’t putting forth compelling packages for him this winter.
Cease is coming off a pedestrian 4.58 ERA, but he’s only one season removed from a runner-up showing on the AL Cy Young ballot, when he pitched 184 innings of 2.20 ERA ball. His strikeout rate and velocity both dipped a bit in ’23 from their ’22 levels, and he gave up more hard contact than usual. The extent to which those red flags combined to impact offers for him can’t be known, but if Cease can come out looking like the 2022 version of himself, it’s conceivable he could even command more near the deadline — particularly since the supply of starting pitching will be much smaller than in the offseason, when there’s a wide bank of free agents to consider.
Cease is controllable through the 2025 season via arbitration. He and the White Sox agreed to a one-year, $8MM deal earlier this winter, avoiding an arb hearing in the process. The right-hander leads all of Major League Baseball with 109 starts dating back to the 2020 season. In that time, Cease sports a 3.58 ERA with a 28.5% strikeout rate, 10.4% walk rate, 36.5% ground-ball rate and 1.03 HR/9.