Will Dylan Cease Be the Phillies’ New #2?

Dylan Cease
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease sits in the dugout during the first inning of the team’s baseball game against the Cleveland Guardians on Thursday, July 27, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)

The Philadelphia Phillies’ biggest offseason priority is their number 2 starting pitcher.

With the top spot being expertly held down by first-time Gold Glove winner Zack Wheeler, the Phils need to decide on a price to keep Aaron Nola or find his replacement. Could that guy — or perhaps a new star pitcher that makes a strong rotation even better — be Dylan Cease?

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease throws against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Who is Dylan Cease?

In these past spring and summer months, Dylan Cease had the unfortunate fate of being on the Chicago White Sox. The tragedy befell many talented baseball players as one of the worst teams was made more miserable with just absolutely terrible vibes. He didn’t pitch super well but his previous seasons, namely his AL Cy Young runner-up campaign in 2022, showed promise.

Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports reported that the White Sox are listening to trade offers for Cease. After they let Tim Anderson hit free agency and sold off numerous key players at the trade deadline, it can be safely inferred that they will be willing to hear enough offers to hear one they like. They’re starting to rebuild with a new front office and could continue remaking their roster by offloading a high-level pitcher who is set to hit free agency after the 2025 season.

Dylan Cease has developed into the ace of the White Sox since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2014 Amateur Draft. The 6-foot-2 native of Georgia has thrown 526.2 innings over the last three seasons with a 3.54 ERA, a 3.40 FIP, a 1.257 WHIP, and 667 strikeouts.

However, last season was not kind to Cease. He posted a 4.58 ERA, struck out way fewer batters than the previous two years, and led MLB in wild pitches with 14. Taking on a reclamation project is always risky — especially so for a team vying for a World Series. Dylan Cease, however, has a lot of talent that could be fully realized in a winning organization. Even after a rough 2023, the Phillies should consider bringing him aboard.

Why Dylan Cease Makes Sense for the Phillies

Dylan Cease has legit swing-and-miss stuff, namely an excellent slider. In 2022, it was the best singular pitch in MLB by a wide margin. His fastball velocity has consistently been well above average, giving the Phillies’ pitching coaches something to work with. In the last three seasons, he ranks ninth in double-digit strikeout games. Although his walk rate is generally higher than the league average, his rates of getting strikeouts and allowing home runs are pretty good.

Despite his impressive stuff, Cease doesn’t typically go very far into games. He averaged 5.4 innings pitched per start last season, which didn’t even crack the top 60. Taijuan Walker, at 5.6, was ahead of him, as were Philly’s other three main starters. Cease tallied 5.8 IP/GS in 2022 but has never posted a season above 5.5 in any other year of his five-season MLB career. There are reasons to believe that the Phillies can help him get through six innings more consistently.

The White Sox, as a team, are generally closer to the league average in this stat while the Phillies are usually in the top 10. Chicago’s poor defense shares some blame. Over the past few years, the Sox have consistently been near the bottom of leaguewide leaderboards in defensive metrics like ultimate zone rating, defensive runs saved, and outs above average. If you’re a pitcher whose defense struggles to make outs, it’ll leave you having to do more work.

Although Cease may not go deep into games on the basis of innings, it’s not for a lack of stamina. Last season, he was one of just six pitchers to average 99 pitches per start. He has tallied over 90 in each of his MLB seasons. With better defenders around him, Cease may be able to give the Phillies more innings than he did the White Sox.

Cease’s ERA has fluctuated from 3.91 three seasons ago to 2.20 two seasons ago to 4.58 last season. What hasn’t changed much is his FIP, which was 3.41, 3.10, and 3.72 in each respective season. Of all pitchers with 450 total innings over the last three seasons, Cease’s FIP is the eighth-best.

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease goes to the rosin bag after walking New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge during the third inning of a baseball game Monday, Aug. 7, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Cause for Concern

One highly concerning trend for Dylan Cease is that his velocity is declining with each season. In 2020, his fastball averaged 97.5 miles per hour. In the following two seasons, it averaged 96.7 and 96.8, respectively. Last season, it fell all the way down to 95.6 miles per hour. That’s still a pretty good velo but to be losing so many ticks so quickly is worrisome.

Those who had the misfortune of covering the White Sox have surmised that Cease extending his release point by a few inches has had negative consequences. Indeed, Cease’s extension was in the 37th percentile on Statcast and had never gone past the 26th percentile in any other season. The Phillies will have to pinpoint the cause(s) of Cease’s declining velocity and come up with a plan to improve it.

The Philles’ supporting infrastructure would be a night-and-day difference for Dylan Cease. Having Wheeler to lean on — plus being in an environment with mounds of positivity, especially in comparison to those from the southside of Chicago — can bring out the best in him. Even if he’s not a Cy Young contender, he could revert back to being a star-level hurler again.

If the Phillies land Dylan Cease and retain Nola (or replace him with someone else) they would have a very strong three-man rotation in early postseason rounds and can use Ranger Suarez out of the bullpen. Then, they could move him back to the rotation for any seven-game series they play in. Nola starts always come packaged with a sense of dread and perhaps Cease’s may too but that’s still a stellar four-man rotation in the biggest games.

Mapping Out a Trade

The issue of trying to acquire Dylan Cease, of course, is that the Phillies would have to negotiate a trade with the White Sox, whose asking price is probably quite high considering they didn’t deal him at the deadline. Chicago would certainly look toward the top of Philly’s list of prospects.

The White Sox’s top prospects on MLB Pipeline don’t feature many outfielders — not until their no. 16 guy — and the Phillies already have some choices to make in the outfield with Bryce Harper, Nick Castellanos, Brandon Marsh, and Johan Rojas. Philly should try to retain Justin Crawford and Andrew Painter but that’s probably who the White Sox would be the most interested in.

Perhaps a package that includes some (not all) of outfielders Simon Muzziotti, Gabriel Rincones Jr., Carlos De La Cruz, and Emaarion Boyd and pitchers Mick Abel and Griff McGarry could be enticing. Offering 19-year-old shortstop William Bergolla makes sense with the Phillies’ middle infield set for the next decade, too.

The Phils can’t be too picky with who they’re giving up for a star-level pitcher in his prime years with team control. But any deal that doesn’t give away their very biggest chips of Painter or Crawford is likely a good one. Those are the guys you have to see in the big leagues eventually…or trade them for someone else of greater talent.

The Phillies are in the business of hunting for a World Series and should be aggressive when it comes to adding talent at spots they need. Dylan Cease is not without his risks but also without high upside. Dave Dombrowski should keep tabs on his trade market this winter.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Erin Hooley)