How Would a Big First Half Change Dylan Cease’s Trade Value?

The early returns have been promising for Dylan Cease this spring, who could be moved for a ransom at the trade deadline with a strong first half.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - SEPTEMBER 12: Dylan Cease #84 of the Chicago White Sox delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning at Guaranteed Rate Field on September 12, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

One of the most talked about trade candidates of the offseason will open the season as the leader of the White Sox rotation. Dylan Cease may still be headed elsewhere in the future, but not yet.

“His velocity is higher, command of the baseball is there. He looks confident, strong, great mound presence. He looks like our number one which he is,” said manager Pedro Grifol following Cease’s second start of Spring Training. Grifol already named Cease the Opening Day starter and his confidence has evidently not wavered.

While he had to manage the turmoil of being on the trade block all offseason, Cease looked excellent in his second start and is gearing up for a bounce back season. He was feeling good after the start and seems to be ahead of where he was at this time last year.

Cease posted higher velocity numbers than he had during portions of the regular season last year, which is encouraging sign given the noticeable dip in his velocity in 2023 from the year prior.

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Cease’s average fastball last year was just 95.6 mph after registering one of the best average marks in the league for a starter at 96.8 mph last season. At times last season he had games where the fastball was sitting in the 93-94 mph range.

He was consistently hitting 96-97 mph on the radar gun at Camelback Ranch this week tough. That’s a significant spot for Cease to be at this early stage of the spring and he acknowledged that after the game. “That’s great. If I can live there during the season, I’ll get plenty of outs,” Cease said about sitting at that velocity in his start.

He’s searching for consistency this spring as he works to refine his command ahead of what will be a pivotal season. He allowed one run in that start on a home run due to a curveball that hung in the zone. He was unbothered by the mistake as he was working on throwing that pitch for a strike and simply left it over the plate too much.

All things considered, Cease looked very sharp in this start and appears to have some of his flare back from his 2022 breakout season. His five strikeouts were impressive as both his fastball and slider have more life than they did for much of last season.

When considering the possible outcomes for Cease this year, it’s worth monitoring how his performance could change his trade value. He’s only one season removed being a top pitcher in baseball and the White Sox held off on trading him this winter with the hope that he would start the season strong and build his value back up.

While the additional three months of control is certainly a loss in terms of value, what does Cease’s trade value look like with a year and a half of control if he posts a 2.70 ERA in the first few months of the year?

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What Could Dylan Cease’s Trade Value Be at His Peak?

Cease, at 28 years old, has elite stuff and has been held back by command even in his career-best 2022 season. However, he’s the type of pitcher who can get the ball in a playoff game and dominate on any given night. Two postseason runs with Cease is going to cost a lot of capital and that’s why Chicago ultimately held off on moving him this winter.

Cease had one of the most dominant stretches in baseball in 2022 and can get in a groove of striking out an absurd amount of hitters. He has registered around 11 K/9 in the past two years and will be highly sought after in a market that has valued pitching heavily recently.

An easy comparison for this scenario would be the Luis Castillo to the Mariners trade in 2022. He was dealt to Seattle at the deadline with a year and a half of club control after posting a 2.86 ERA through 14 starts with Cincinnati. The Reds turned Castillo into three of the Mariners’ top five prospects at the time, with Castillo being in the midst of his career-best season.

While he wasn’t coming off a year as rough as Cease is now, Castillo had not shown himself to be a true ace until that season with the Reds. Castillo had however proven to be durable with at least 30 starts in each of the three full seasons prior to the trade year. Cease can relate to that as he made 32 or more starts each of the past three seasons.

Two top 100 level prospects will likely be the starting point for a Cease deal. That would align with the headline pieces from the Castillo deal: Noelvi Marte (bad timing to be writing this, huh?) and Edwin Arroyo.

Beyond that, at least one or potentially two more young project players would need to be added.

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Cease’s production will ultimately control his market, given his down year last season. If he’s not able to carry over his Spring Training momentum into the season, the White Sox will have to lower their price substantively.

A potential comparison for a lower value trade could be the Frankie Montas deal from the same deadline as the Castillo deal. Even with a shaky half, Cease would likely have more value than Montas as there was not a true headline piece in that deal. The A’s were able to bring in four of the Yankees’ top 21 prospects though as they brought back quantity over quality to an extent.

Another trade that comes to mind is the one that sent Jose Berrios from the Twins to the Blue Jays in 2021. At the time, the Jays were moving two top 100 prospects for a pitcher with a year and a half left on his deal which makes it comparable.

However, neither Austin Martin or Simeon Woods-Richardson has amounted to much of anything yet in Minnesota.

This deal may be the best overall comparison but the White Sox ability to negotiate a deal for Cease will still come down to if he can deliver like he has this spring. If he puts it together like he did in 2022, Cease should net the White Sox at least three high level prospects this July.