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Dylan Cease trade candidates: Six teams best suited to acquire the star pitcher

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With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in less than a month, we’ve officially entered the staring contest portion of the hot stove season, with teams and free agents waiting to see who will blink first and concede that one side needs the other more than the other needs them. 

As MLB clubs ultimately decide whether to address certain roster needs via free agency, the trade market has consequently slowed, as teams with attractive trade chips are better off waiting for potential trade partners to miss out in free agency and ensuring the best possible offers. This dynamic appears to be in play with the White Sox and their highly transparent intentions of trading away right-handed pitcher Dylan Cease as a grand finale of sorts to their drastic rebuild. 

Though his pedestrian surface numbers in 2023 might not reflect it, Cease is just a year removed from a runner-up finish in the AL Cy Young race, with the same spectacular stuff — and underrated durability — still fully intact. With two years of team control remaining at a cost far lower than what the likes of free agents Blake Snell or Jordan Montgomery will command, Cease represents a unique opportunity for a team in search of an impactful rotation upgrade — if it is willing to meet the sizable demands from new White Sox general manager Chris Getz. 

This is a different kind of cost, albeit one that comes in far more shapes and sizes than the cold hard cash required to land a big-name free agent. While GMs are reluctant to part with top prospects under any circumstance, there’s more flexibility and creativity involved in the construction of trades of this ilk, which allows a wider variety of teams to emerge as possible matches than we tend to see in free agency. In turn, Cease remains at the forefront of the trade market as the most likely big name to move before spring training opens. But which team is best positioned — and most willing to pay up — to acquire him remains cloudy. 

Crafting fake trades is usually a fool’s errand in this industry, but Cease’s market continues to fascinate me to the point where I wanted to go down the path of what such a deal could actually look like. I’ve identified six teams as the most realistic landing spots, and for each suitor, we’ll consider why they would potentially be interested, ponder who would be untouchable in trade talks (with a focus on younger players and prospects more than veteran big leaguers who make little sense for Chicago to target amid its rebuild), and explore the likeliest players to headline a package netting the talented righty. 

1. Baltimore Orioles

This is the no-brainer trade partner. Baseball’s best farm system is practically overflowing with talent in the upper-levels, especially on the position player side, and the Orioles are hurdling toward a borderline laughable logjam of talent if they don’t consolidate some of it in a trade in the near future. With an apparent unwillingness to participate in even the medium-tier market of free agency, a trade for someone like Cease is an obvious alternative to substantially improve a rotation that desperately needs a jolt as Baltimore looks to defend its improbable division title. 

Untouchables: This is also a no-brainer. Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson and Jackson Holliday — all of whom have held the title of top prospect in baseball at some point over the past half-decade — are the pillars of this franchise moving forward. On the mound, I’d expect Grayson Rodriguez to be fairly off-limits, as well, considering his own rare ace upside that Baltimore would have no interest in sacrificing. If there’s one prospect besides Holliday who seems to be fairly close to a no-go, it’s 22-year-old slugger Coby Mayo, whose .964 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A in 2023 launched him into the upper-echelon of hitting prospects across the industry. 

Potential headliners: This is not as much of a no-brainer — but not because of a lack of options. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Does Chicago want outfielders? Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad are both accomplished corner sluggers with extensive pedigree as former top-five picks and big-time MiLB production. Infielders? Take your pick: Joey Ortiz (excellent SS defender, .904 career Triple-A OPS) or Jordan Westburg (former first-round pick who has already looked like a league-average hitter in MLB) would both look great in a future White Sox infield alignment. 

Dig deeper, and you’ll find several other recently drafted college bats with big-time ceilings (Enrique Bradfield Jr., Dylan Beavers, Jud Fabian, Mac Horvath). If Chicago wants to inject a new wave of position player talent in one trade the way the Padres did on the pitching side in the Juan Soto swap, the Orioles are the perfect partner to make that a reality. With the White Sox having primarily targeted pitching in their rebuilding deals thus far, this might be the most sensible path if they can ultimately line up with Baltimore on an exchange that works. 

2. Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox look like one of the most obvious landing spots for either Snell or Montgomery atop the free-agent pitching market, but questions surrounding the organization’s willingness to actually spend top dollar have seemingly dimmed the likelihood that such signings will come to fruition. At a time when the fan base’s confidence in the team’s leadership is wavering following consecutive last-place finishes in the AL East, securing a deal for Cease would better reflect the team’s stated intention of going “full throttle” at the outset of the winter.

Untouchables: I’d assume shortstop Marcelo Mayer and outfielder Roman Anthony — one of 2023’s biggest breakout prospects — are off-limits, as is last year’s first-round catcher Kyle Teel. On the big-league team, I’d imagine Triston Casas and Brayan Bello are also both considered foundational cogs who are unavailable in trade discussions. 

Potential headliners: I’m not the biggest Jarren Duran believer, but if the White Sox are, he’s not a bad place to start as a well-rounded outfielder under team control through 2028. Ceddanne Rafaela’s free-swinging approach might not be the kind of offensive profile Chicago is especially interested in targeting after similar-style hitters have floundered on the South Side in recent years, but his explosive tool set and upper-minors production could still appeal to some degree. Beyond Mayer, Boston boasts a ton of intriguing infield prospects that could pique the White Sox’s interest depending on their preference for a more advanced bat (Nick Yorke, Chase Meidroth) or pure upside (Mikey Romero, Nazzan Zanetello, Blaze Jordan). 

On the mound, there’s some huge, albeit raw, stuff present in some lower-level arms like Wikelman Gonzalez and Luis Perales, though they each might carry too much reliever risk to be considered headliners in a Cease deal. One intriguing possibility: Could Kutter Crawford (under team control through 2028) serve as a long-term rotation solution who functions similarly to Ryan Pepiot for Tampa Bay in the Tyler Glasnow deal? That would entirely depend on Chicago’s evaluation of Crawford, but it’s worth considering. 

3. Los Angeles Dodgers

Reports suggest the Dodgers have cooled on their interest in Cease after landing Yoshinobu Yamamoto to pair with Glasnow in their new-look 2024 rotation, but Los Angeles still has the pieces to pull off another blockbuster if they are so inclined. 

Untouchables: Shohei Ohtani, I’d assume. OK, in all seriousness, the only young player I feel comfortable saying the Dodgers have zero interest in moving is Bobby Miller. Beyond him, I think they’d be open to discuss just about anyone in their farm system — or at least, I’d be willing to if I was in their position and interested in Cease. 

Potential headliners: Michael Busch was reportedly a central focus in preliminary Cease talks with the White Sox before he was recently shipped to the Cubs. Busch was the only MLB-ready young hitter the Dodgers had to offer, and several of L.A.’s best hitting prospects beyond Busch are catchers — a position Chicago has already seemingly addressed by acquiring Edgar Quero in the Lucas Giolito trade with the Angels last summer. 

In turn, a revisited Cease deal would likely center on the Dodgers’ wealth of pitchers who are at or near the big-league level not named Miller: Nick Frasso, Gavin Stone, Kyle Hurt, River Ryan and Landon Knack. As for how these arms line up exactly for Chicago’s front office is anybody’s guess, but it’s hard to imagine that the right combo of two or three of them wouldn’t at least start a worthwhile conversation for Cease. 

4. New York Yankees

It’s possible the Yankees are done pursuing starting pitching upgrades after the recent signing of Marcus Stroman. At the same time, their intense efforts toward signing Yamamoto earlier this winter indicated a strong interest in adding a co-ace alongside Gerrit Cole. Stroman doesn’t fulfill that role in the way Cease — or the potential signing of Snell — would. This doesn’t seem super likely, but it’s not hard to find Yankees fans still clamoring for another star in the rotation. 

Untouchables: Anthony Volpe is the Yankees shortstop, and that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. Top prospect Spencer Jones has reportedly been the hang-up from New York’s perspective in the Cease talks thus far, so we can assume Brian Cashman would prefer not to include him, either. This would also be an awfully strange time to deal prized outfield prospect Jasson Domínguez as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery; he still seems to figure into the Yankees’ future in a pretty big way regardless of the injury. Let’s take him off the board, as well. 

Potential headliners: Even after dealing away a ton of arms in both the Soto and Alex Verdugo trades, and losing a handful of others in the Rule 5 Draft, the Yankees still boast enviable depth on the mound in the upper-minors. Right-handers Chase Hampton, Clayton Beeter and Will Warren are all coming off excellent seasons and offer different flavors of upside and intrigue depending on who you ask. 

Pairing one of them with, say, infielder Oswald Peraza, could be a strong enough starting point for a deal to land Cease without giving up the star-upside of someone like Volpe, Jones or Domínguez. Peraza could still prove useful on both the 2024 Yankees and beyond, but the recent acquisition of another upper-level infield prospect in Jorbit Vivas — who also might also be of interest to the White Sox — has given New York the kind of depth to make parting with Peraza more palatable. 

5. Texas Rangers

The champs have been awfully quiet this winter, focusing on the fringes of the roster rather than participating in the top end of the market as they have in recent winters — at least so far. The Rangers are one of several teams who reportedly have been taking a more conservative approach to spending this winter due to uncertainty surrounding their TV deal. 

A reunion with playoff hero Montgomery seems to still be on the table, but if Texas is looking to make a significant upgrade without shelling out another substantial long-term contract, Cease — who will make just $8 million in 2024 — could be the perfect target. This would be a savvy avenue by which GM Chris Young could act aggressive in improving the roster without necessarily needing to spend big bucks to do so. 

Untouchables: Evan Carter and Josh Jung — two foundational young pieces who have already proven it in the postseason — aren’t going anywhere, and neither is last year’s No. 4 overall pick Wyatt Langford, who already looks like one of the top prospects in baseball. 

Potential headliners: Let’s start with the young guys we’ve seen have some amount of big-league success: Leody Taveras and Ezequiel Duran. Should Texas replace Mitch Garver in free agency with a full-time veteran DH, Duran’s window for potential ABs would shrink, and he could emerge as an appealing piece to Chicago as an MLB-ready bat with defensive versatility to boot. Taveras, meanwhile, is a more likely trade candidate given Langford and Carter’s respective ascensions, but would also appeal more to a team that didn’t already have a franchise center fielder like Luis Robert

If we look at the prospects, infielder Justin Foscue (.862 OPS in 122 Triple-A games in 2023) is exactly the kind of upper-level bat that Chicago should be all over, and is extremely blocked in the big leagues by Jung, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. On the pitching side, Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker have both seen their prospect stock suffer since their high-profile college days for various reasons, but could still prove appealing to a team like Chicago looking for upside on the mound. 

6. San Diego Padres

Tasked with replacing a ton of innings from last year’s pitching staff that departed in free agency, San Diego has already been plenty busy acquiring arms, whether it be in the Soto blockbuster, signing relievers from the KBO and NPB, and even the Rule 5 Draft. However, with all due respect to Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Michael King, Snell’s exit leaves this rotation without a Cy Young-caliber talent like Cease. Like the Rangers, the Padres don’t seem to have an appetite for spending as much as they did in recent winters, so a trade for Cease could prove a more reasonable route in an effort to make a big splash. 

Untouchables: Catching prospect Ethan Salas is an absolute no-go, a generational talent who is shockingly close to the big leagues for someone who doesn’t even turn 18 until June. I’m not as certain that Jackson Merrill, another consensus top-15 prospect in baseball, would be completely off limits considering how blocked he is by the veteran stars on long-term deals on the big-league roster, but let’s take him off the table for now.

Potential headliners: They might not be Foscue-level prospects, but Nathan Martorella, Graham Pauley and Jakob Marsee are three late-round picks who have jumped onto the national radar with impressive offensive production in the minors. While none would be worthy of leading a Cease package, these are the types of safer prospects that could bolster the depth of Chicago’s system while also contribute in the big leagues in the near future. 

A more likely headliner in a Cease deal would be one of several high-upside arms — and the kind the Padres might be more willing to part with due to the inherent risk in young pitchers’ profiles. Jairo Iriarte, 22, and 20-year-olds Robby Snelling and Dylan Lesko each enter 2024 with a ton of deserved hype, but think of it this way: How likely is any of them to ever be as good as Cease one day? Through that lens, flipping them in a Cease deal becomes a bit more palatable, albeit still a tough pill to swallow. I am quite curious if Snelling in particular might actually be more untouchable than someone like Merrill considering the season he just had.

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for MLB.com, DAZN and The Ringer. He’s a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_. 


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