Will the White Sox deal Dylan Cease — and which teams could land him?

Sports

From the first day of the offseason, right-handed starter Dylan Cease has been among baseball’s most talked-about trade candidates. Executives around the league expected the Chicago White Sox ace would be on the move, after new Chicago general manager Chris Getz was clear about his intentions to make significant changes to the 102-loss team he inherited.

But it’s Jan. 10 and Cease is still in Chicago.

Plenty of other starting pitchers around baseball — including Tyler Glasnow, Robbie Ray and Chris Sale — have been traded, and the looming end of Shota Imanaga’s free agency could ignite another round of dominoes. So are the White Sox still waiting for the perfect time to deal the best trade candidate remaining — or will the 2022 AL Cy Young runner-up stay put?

“It’s ever-evolving in terms of the urgency of other clubs,” Getz said in a Tuesday videoconference with reporters. “It could be in the offseason, it could at the deadline, it could be in May. There’s just so many different factors when you’re talking about 29 other clubs.

“In the case of Dylan, I don’t think there’s a club out there that hasn’t expressed some level of interest in him. All their situations are different.”

Getz spoke in generalities but never intimated the option of keeping him in Chicago long term was on the table. It’s one reason why suitors are lining up, according to league sources.

Cease’s trade value is far greater than a quick look at his 4.58 ERA in 2023 might suggest. At 28 years old, he’s just a year removed from a dominant 2022 season in which he posted a 2.20 ERA while striking out 227 batters in 184 innings. While 2023 didn’t go nearly as well for him, he still whiffed 214 hitters while throwing 177 innings thanks to a slider that ranks among the game’s most dominant pitches. Even when his stats dipped, his stuff remained elite, leading to a belief among some scouts that Cease is due for a rebound. Cease has also proved himself as one of MLB’s most durable pitchers, making 97 starts over the past three seasons.

But the most desirable factor to other teams is Cease’s contract. He’ll likely make about $8 million through arbitration during the 2024 season and is under team control through 2025, meaning that a team acquiring him this winter would be getting two full seasons at a below-market price.

The contract that makes Cease so enticing to other front offices also ranks near the top of the list of reasons he is still on the White Sox. With two more opportunities to move him — at the August trade deadline and next offseason — Getz can wait for the right deal. It just hasn’t happened yet.

According to rivals who have negotiated with Chicago, Getz has been deliberate and straightforward in his new role so there’s no reason to expect he will rush what would immediately become his signature move as White Sox general manager. The idea of waiting until July — or later — to move Cease hasn’t been spoken directly to teams, but there’s more of a sense that could happen now than there was in November. Getz’s no-nonsense style of negotiating has also led to a clear picture of what kind of package it will take to get a deal done, according to teams that have engaged in talks with the White Sox this offseason: Multiple high-end prospects (one won’t be enough) and some “fill-ins.”

One potential trade that didn’t come to fruition offers a window into what it will take to land Cease. During negotiations and after completing a five-for-one deal for reliever Aaron Bummer, the Braves spoke to the White Sox about Cease, according to league sources. Chicago is in need of middle infielders, and second baseman Vaughn Grissom was on the table. But Getz stuck to his asking price and Atlanta couldn’t offer the multiple high-end prospects needed to complete a trade. (The Braves pivoted by acquiring Chris Sale from the Boston Red Sox for Grissom.)

So which teams could pry Cease away from the White Sox?

The Cincinnati Reds have had interest this winter — and still could — but they might be nearing the end of their upgrades on the mound after the additions of Frankie Montas, Nick Martinez and Emilio Pagan.

The New York Yankees could use Cease but aren’t likely to meet the trade demands; after dealing multiple young players for Juan Soto and losing some depth via the Rule 5 draft, they seem less likely to further weaken their farm system by giving up top prospect Spencer Jones.

The crosstown Chicago Cubs are looking for a starter but a reunion with Cease, whom the Cubs traded away in 2017, appears unlikely with the Cubs unwilling to part with their top prospects to do it.

That leaves the Baltimore Orioles as perhaps the best-known potential landing spot for the five-year veteran. The Orioles haven’t bolstered their young rotation this offseason and have both the high-end prospects who could pique Getz’s interest and the system depth to absorb dealing away top young players. Though Jackson Holliday is almost certainly off the table — a new GM can dream, can’t he? — the teams might line up if corner infielder Coby Mayo can make his way into the deal.

“The Orioles could use Cease more than the White Sox right now,” one front office executive not associated with either team said. “Getz will probably wait it out as long as he can. Even into spring training.”

Of course, that could change once the remaining free agents start coming off the board. The game of musical pitching chairs is about to start up again. If a team is left without a seat, Getz just might get his high return.

“There’s a lot that goes into any trade transaction,” Getz said. “There’s a lot of conversations, build up, research and obviously getting it to the finish line. As part of the offseason, we’ll continue to do that and find ways to get our club better.”

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