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If Red Sox want Dylan Cease, they have the prospects to get him

If Red Sox want Dylan Cease, they have the prospects to get him originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Red Sox may not spend anymore, but there's one area where they can compete with virtually anyone, and that's their farm system.

When it comes to signing free agents, they've basically gathered their tattered belongings and warmed their hands over a burning trash barrel, ceding the stage to behemoths like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Mets while scrounging for scraps.

But as attention turns to the trade market, the Red Sox possess the ammunition to outbid virtually anybody, and the success of their offseason hinges on their willingness to do it.

New chief baseball officer Craig Breslow has consistently stated he'll move prospects if they'll improve the big league roster, and there's little reason to doubt him, since Chaim Bloom's reluctance to touch the farm contributed to Breslow's arrival.

Outside of the Yankees acquiring pending free agent Juan Soto from the Padres, there hasn't been much impact movement on the trade market, but that's about to change, especially on the pitching side. Teams with starters to trade can now engage anyone shut out of the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes while demanding exorbitant prices.

The Red Sox, if they so choose, are in a position to pay them.

That's because they've built an impressive group of positional prospects, though opinions vary on exactly how high-end shortstop Marcelo Mayer and Co. will actually prove to be. While FanGraphs (2nd overall farm system) and Baseball America (5th) are bullish, MLB Pipeline (16th) and ESPN.com (14th) remain less convinced.

Still, there are legitimate pieces to move and legitimate targets to acquire. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported Friday that the Red Sox are possibly in the mix for White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease, the 2022 Cy Young runner-up who's coming off a down season but remains the prize of the winter because he's 28 with two more years of team control.

Even in an off year, Cease still led the league in starts (33) while throwing 177 innings and striking out over 27 percent of the batters he faced. His slider grades as one of the game's most dominant pitches, and for a team craving reliability, he provides it, because he has made at least 32 starts in each of the last three years.

The bidding is expected to be intense, with prospect-rich clubs like the Orioles and Dodgers reportedly in the mix. The Red Sox can afford to be right there with them, if they consider Cease's 4.58 ERA last year an aberration and his 2.20 output from 2022 more indicative of his talent.

The question is whom Breslow will be willing to move. The shine has come off Mayer a bit after the former No. 4 overall pick struggled in his introduction to Double-A, which was cut short by a shoulder injury.

But even if he now grades as more of a top-20 overall prospect than a top-10 one, Mayer remains a potential franchise shortstop whose struggles last year (.189 average in 43 games at Portland) can largely be attributed to injury. Bloom would never have dreamed of trading Mayer. With Breslow, it can't be ruled out.

One of Breslow's most important jobs since he took over, in fact, has been evaluating his own system. There's a happy medium between Dave Dombrowski's approach of trading everyone and Bloom's of trading no one, and Breslow must determine which two or three prospects he believes will hit and then make everyone else available in the right deal.

If I had to guess whom he'd keep, the two most likely candidates are actually outfielder Roman Anthony and catcher Kyle Teel. The former was the organization's breakout star, zooming from Low-A Salem to Double-A Portland, where he hit .343 with a homer in 10 games while drawing comparisons to former Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill.

The latter was one of the quickest movers in last year's draft, also ending his season at Double-A. Teel was the best catcher in college baseball at Virginia and is considered a potential franchise cornerstone at a premium position. The 14th overall pick may end up being a steal, and it's hard to envision the Red Sox moving him.

Everyone else should be on the table, whether it's second baseman Nick Yorke (made expendable by the acquisition of Vaughn Grissom from the Braves), defensive whiz Ceddanne Rafaela, top pitching prospect Wikelman Gonzalez, or even Mayer.

The Red Sox may have decided they don't have much money to spend this winter, but they are blessed with an abundance of prospects. What they do with them will determine the fate of their offseason.