MLB's hottest commodity, White Sox ace Dylan Cease opens up about trade rumors

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dylan Cease plopped down on the picnic bench Thursday afternoon outside the Chicago White Sox’s clubhouse, wiped the sweat from his forehead, and slowly exhaled.

It’s only the second full day of workouts, and already, everyone is asking Cease just how long he’ll be in a White Sox uniform.

He hadn't even put his cleats on in the morning before rumors already started spilling into the clubhouse about the Baltimore Orioles making another push for him.

The Orioles announced in Sarasota, Fla., that Kyle Bradish, their No. 1 starter of a year ago, will open the season on the injured list with a right UCL sprain and that fellow starter John Means is a month behind schedule with a sore elbow.

Could the Orioles, who tried to acquire Cease during the winter before acquiring Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes, reach out and re-ignite the dormant trade talks?

Uh, no, at least not on Thursday, White Sox GM Chris Getz said.

Cease, the White Sox starter who finished runner-up in the AL Cy Young race in 2022, knows he’s not long for the White Sox, but has no idea where or when he’ll be backing his bags. The White Sox informed him they plan to trade him once a team meets their demands, but after talks this winter with the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, Atlanta and the Orioles, no one came close.

Dylan Cease leads the majors with 97 starts since 2021.
Dylan Cease leads the majors with 97 starts since 2021.

It’s at a point now, Cease told USA TODAY Sports, that he’s going to have no choice but to put a deposit down on a Chicago apartment next week, just in case he’s in town much longer than anyone anticipated.

“I just don’t know where I’ll end up," Cease said. “I’ll have fans come up to me after reading an article. Fans see the speculation and everyone gets excited about this and that. I think it’s good for the game for sure.

“But for the most part, I try not to over-focus on it. Just prepare like normal."

Cease, who lives in Milton, Ga., outside Atlanta, would run into neighbors and fans rooting for their team to acquire him during the offseason . He tried to explain that he had no input or power to be traded where he desired, but it didn’t matter. The rumors finally ended when Atlanta instead traded for Chris Sale just before New Year’s.

The White Sox talked to Cease throughout the winter, and plan to keep him abreast of any potential trade so he’s not caught off-guard, but Cease is also realistic.

“He [Getz] told me if there’s anything imminent," Cease said, “but it’s tough because unless you’re at the point where pretty much the deals done, it’s not. So if you call me up and say, 'Hey, we’re 70% there with this team, and then they don’t get there,’ it doesn’t make sense.

“I think imminent is essentially, 'Hey, you’re getting traded.'"

Getz reiterated Thursday that he will keep Cease as apprised as he possible on trade possibilities, but has no concerns that he’ll be distracted.

“I can’t think of a situation too similar to this," Getz said, “but the unique thing about Dylan is just the makeup of the player. He’s very professional. He’s very even-keeled. Moments are not too big.

“The art of minimizing the noise, Dylan is excellent at that. So the uncertainty of being moved or not moved, I don’t worry about it with Dylan as perhaps I would someone else."

The conjecture in the industry is that trade talks could accelerate once free-agent starters Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery sign. The teams that lose out in the sweepstakes for the two starters could turn around and focus their attention on Cease.

“I don’t know, it’s definitely not my area of expertise," Cease said. “I could see it, I guess, but that’s over my head. I’m just here to execute pitches."

Then again, Cease does have an inside source on his possible whereabouts.

His agent is Scott Boras, who also happens to represent Snell and Montgomery. So, the teams that land those starters likely will be out on Cease.

The uncertainty, combined with the wild speculation is enough to drive anyone bonkers, but Cease insists it doesn’t bother him, which is reflected by his demeanor in the clubhouse. The White Sox have 69 players in camp, and about half are newcomers to the organization.

Yet there is Cease, walking around introducing himself, hanging out with his teammates. He’s not going to change who he is just because he may not be around long enough to see opening day.

“It’s one of those things where why wouldn’t you give everything you had?" Cease says. “In a social sense, I’ve got nothing to lose by making a friendship or a connection with somebody.

“I guess for me, I’m not super-attachment oriented in that sense. Like I can pick up and go if I have to. But while I’m here, I’m going to be a part of the team and enjoy everybody."

The White Sox say they couldn’t be more pleased with Cease’s professionalism, but are hardly surprised. If they were still planning to contend, he’d be the first guy they’d keep. But when you lose 101 games like the White Sox a year ago and have the trade chip everyone covets, you’ve got little choice but to deal him to acquire pieces for a rebuild.

“There’s not a better guy than the way he’s handled this," said White Sox manager Pedro Grifol, “and how he understands the business and how he understands the position he’s in. He’s a hot commodity but he’s also that for us, too.

“He puts a smile on my face every time I see him walk in the clubhouse."

While it’s clear the White Sox would prefer to trade Cease before the season opener, the White Sox also believe it’s quite possible that Cease’s trade value could increase towards the July 30 trade deadline. He went just 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA last season, but if he resembles the pitcher who was runner-up in the AL Cy Young race in 2022 with a 14-8, 2.20 ERA and 227 strikeouts, Getz’s phone could be ringing non-stop.

“I definitely have plans on having a better season than last year," Cease said, “so if I probably had another season like [2022], it probably would have been a little easier to trade me. At the end of the day, I just want to go out there, make all my starts, and perform well."

There’s no reason to believe he won’t return to being one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League. He now has one of the game’s pre-eminent defensive catchers in Martin Maldonado along with Brian Bannister, the White Sox’s new senior pitching advisor.

“I went through stretches last year where I just wasn't finding ways to correct my mistakes," Cease said. “I never got into a rhythm or feel until the end of the season. There was a large part of the year where I would go out and just didn’t have a feel, and I didn’t find a way to make an adjustment. I know I’ll learn from that."

And, in two years, who knows, Cease may be the one sitting atop the free-agent class himself. He’s just 28 years old and has not missed a start since making his major-league debut in 2019. His 97 starts since 2021 lead all pitchers. And, oh yeah, he entered this spring training feeling the best he has in his career.

“Two years in baseball goes fast,’’ Cease says, “but that still feels like a lifetime away. So I just try to focus on my day-to-day right now. The more I can be focused on what I have to do now will naturally happen in a positive way as opposed to constantly thinking about it and stressing about it."

So, for now, he is a White Sox.

Tomorrow, who knows?

“There are a lot of positives about staying here," Cease said. “I’ve got a lot of friends. I’ve made a lot of good relationships. I like the city of Chicago. But I understand it’s a business. At the end of the day, I just want to perform. That’s why I’m here."

If Cease stays, he will be the White Sox’s opening-day starter.

If he’s traded, he’ll instantly go from a rebuilding team to a contender.

“It’s a win-win," Cease says. “It’s an honor to be wanted, and feel wanted. It’s hard to beat the feeling that you’re a difference-maker.

“We’ll just have to see what happens."

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Dylan Cease trade rumors dominate White Sox, MLB spring training