Trade analysis: Dylan Cease acquisition is a no-brainer for the Padres

Trade details: San Diego Padres acquire RHP Dylan Cease from the Chicago White Sox for RHPs Drew Thorpe, Jairo Iriarte and Steven Wilson, and OF Samuel Zavala

The Padres pulled off the rare spring training blockbuster trade with their surprise move to acquire Dylan Cease from the White Sox on Wednesday, trading three prospects from their top 10 prospects list — but none of their top five — to add a starting pitcher who replaces the value and innings they lost from Blake Snell’s departure via free agency.



San Diego Padres 2024 top 20 prospects: Ethan Salas, Jackson Merrill lead the way

Cease was one of the best pitchers in baseball in 2022, with a 2.20 ERA across a career-high 184 innings, leading the American League with 6.4 bWAR, while his fWAR was lower at 4.4 because a good bit of the first number derived from his low .261 BABIP. That’s really the main difference between his 2022 and his 2023 seasons: the BABIP jumped from .261 to .331, driving comparable jumps in his AVG/OBP allowed and a 99-point increase in his slugging percentage allowed. If you wonder why folks like me rely so much on fWAR and other measures that take BABIP all or partially out of the equation, Cease is a good example: He wasn’t a substantially different pitcher between 2022 and 2023, even though his ERA more than doubled from 2.20 to 4.58, and his fWAR reflects that as his only decreased from 4.4 to 3.7.

The Padres’ top-three pitchers in 2023 by fWAR are all gone, one still a free agent and the others now with Kansas City (Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha), so Cease comes in off a better 2023 season than anyone else on the Padres’ pitching staff. Whether that makes him the nominal No. 1 starter is less important than the fact that he’s probably a 3-4 win upgrade over whoever he’s replacing — probably some combination of Randy Vásquez, Jhonny Brito, the now-traded Drew Thorpe, or Pedro Avila, who would have all seen time as the fifth starter. San Diego has lost a lot of talent this winter with the Juan Soto trade and the departures of Snell and others through free agency, but there’s still 90-win potential here with Cease’s addition and one hopes more innings from Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove. From San Diego’s perspective, this trade is a no-brainer — they kept their top five prospects, and of the three prospects they traded, only Thorpe was likely to have any impact on the major-league roster in 2024. (The fourth player the White Sox received in the deal, Wilson, is a reliever who made more than 50 appearances for the Padres in each of the last two seasons.)



Padres-White Sox trade grades: Taking stock of the Dylan Cease deal for both sides

Zavala is the big wild-card here for Chicago, offering the highest ceiling of the three guys coming back, with huge variance in his potential outcomes and in opinions on him across the industry. He’s got a real approach at the plate, drawing 96 walks last year and posting a .267/.420/.451 line as an 18-year-old in Low A. He was one of just six 18-year-olds to play a full season in the minors in 2023. He’s got the bat speed to hit better pitching, but it’s a long swing with some extra movement he needs to cut down, so he doesn’t repeat his swing path that well pitch to pitch. He’s played centerfield so far in the minors but scouts who saw him last year thought that he’d end up in right, in large part because he didn’t show the focus to stay up the middle. He struck out more than 26 percent of the time last season, which is high but not excessive for a guy who was younger than many high schoolers taken in the 2023 draft (such as first-rounder Aidan Miller). He needs to show that he can do a lot more than draw walks, as he’s got the strength and bat speed for 20+ homers as long as he hits enough to get to that power in games.

GettyImages 2079086563 scaled

Thorpe just joined the Padres this winter in the Juan Soto deal. (John E. Moore III / Getty Images)

Drew Thorpe was part of the return for Juan Soto after a year when he led all minor-league pitchers in strikeouts, although he has a lower ceiling than his performance implies and I don’t think he’s more than a fourth starter in the long run, perhaps just a fifth. He has a plus changeup that might be a grade-70 offering, with great arm speed and late fading action, and his curveball is above-average, but he works with a very ordinary fastball at 91-93 mph without much life or movement. It’s a violent delivery with a lot of effort and a head-whack at the end, something you’d expect to see from a pitcher throwing much harder, and while he has never walked many batters I think it’s more control than actual command.

Right-hander Jairo Iriarte has been up to 100 in the past and would sit 93-96, although his velocity may be down a little this spring. He’s also shown an above-average slider for a potential out pitch. The fastball is very flat and his changeup is too close to the fastball in velocity, looking more like a two-seamer at 90-91. He’s had trouble maintaining his delivery deep into games and there’s not a ton of physical projection here, so while he’s a starter now and should stay as one while he’s still in the minors, I think he’s much more likely to end up a fastball/slider guy out of the bullpen.

For all of the rumors around Cease going back at least to the last trade deadline, this return feels a little light to me, with Cease still two years from free agency. I don’t see how the Dodgers, Orioles, or Brewers would let Cease switch teams without topping this offer, which any of them could have done without missing any of the guys they’re trading — Baltimore and Milwaukee have position-player surpluses from which to deal, and the Dodgers have arms, although they could argue they may need those guys to get through the first half of the 2024 season.

I infer from the trade that the White Sox prioritized getting pitching back, which at least makes sense in the context of their farm system, which has improved over the last two years but with nearly all of that improvement coming on the position-player side. If Thorpe and Iriarte exceed my expectations, it’ll be a great return for Chicago, but I’m skeptical that they’re more than back-end starters or swing types.

(Top photo of Cease: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top