Evaluating Dylan Cease As Phillies Trade Candidate
The Philadelphia Phillies will explore the market for available starting pitchers, and Dylan Cease will be toward the top of their list.
Dave Dombrowski spoke about the future of impending free agent Aaron Nola in Philadelphia.
“We hope to retain him, but if we don’t, to me that would be our number one area. We need to then replace him. We need to be in a position where we have somebody else that would be a starting pitcher of quality in the rotation. So, yes, it’s either Aaron or somebody else.” -Dombrowski
Nola and the Phillies failed to agree on an extension during Spring Training. The veteran right-hander had a down season in 2023. He could still command over $200 million on the open market.
Would acquiring Cease be a better option than bringing back Nola?
White Sox in the Trade Market
GM Chris Getz of the Chicago White Sox spoke loud and clear.
“I don’t like our team…We have pieces that are talented, and they’re attractive, and they can be part of a winning club. Obviously, we haven’t been able to go out there and perform.” -Getz
Getz would ideally like to keep a pitcher like Cease in the prime years of his career just one year removed from finishing as the American League Cy Young runner-up. However, the White Sox will most likely move him given the dissatisfaction within the franchise.
The White Sox dealt starters Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn ahead of the 2023 MLB Trade Deadline, and they declined the club option for shortstop Tim Anderson.
Dylan Cease: A Fit for the Phillies?
Cease has started 123 games in five MLB seasons. He’ll turn 28 this offseason, and he is under affordable team control for the 2024 and 2025 seasons. He’ll earn an estimated $9 million per season.
His second-place finish in the 2022 AL Cy Young race demonstrates the real appeal. Cease finished with a 2.20 ERA in 184 innings with a 1.109 WHIP. He’s also struck out over 200 batters in three consecutive seasons.
However, a down season in 2023 raises concerns. The 6-foot-2 righty enjoyed good stretches, but inconsistency and a brutal month of August landed his season ERA at 4.58.
Dylan Cease's 8Ks thru 4.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 31, 2023
Disgusting stuff.🤮 pic.twitter.com/YCf0YOPWox
Comparing Cease and Aaron Nola
The tremendous passion of Philadelphia fans sometimes leads to tough criticism, and Nola has experienced plenty of it during his nine seasons with the Phillies. Remember that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
Nola has struck out over 200 batters in five of the past six seasons, excluding only the shortened 2020 season when he set a career high in strikeout rate. He is only two and a half years older than Cease.
His inconsistency raises red flags similar to Cease. Nola struggled in 2021 and 2023, yet he has still accumulated one of the most impressive overall track records of any starting pitcher in the history of a franchise that’s been around since 1883.
Cease might look like an upgrade as the contrary option. However, in each of his three full major league seasons, he has pitched fewer innings than Nola. The long-time Phillie posted his worst season WHIP at 1.306 in 2016. Cease has a career WHIP of 1.305.
Despite the questions about Nola in the biggest moments, he’s been excellent in five of his nine career postseason starts. He’s gotten an early hook in two others. Cease has only pitched 2 ⅔ career playoff innings.
Dylan Cease might be a good option in the Phillies rotation, but Aaron Nola is a statistically better pitcher based on track record.
Phillies Have Options
The Phillies will have to dish out big money to keep Aaron Nola. It might ultimately end the relationship with one of their only homegrown stars.
Cease would come at a cheaper price for the next two seasons during the heart of their window of World Series contention. The Phillies would then face the same situation with Cease in 2025 that they currently face with Nola.
The trade package they’d need to send to Chicago might dent their stock of young pitching prospects and the surplus of young centerfielders within the organization.
Dombrowski is aware of the bigger picture. The Phillies need to find the best way to allocate resources to place a strong second option behind Zack Wheeler. Re-signing Nola would mean counting on a bounce back from a 30-year-old at a lucrative price. Acquiring Cease would mean counting on a similar bounce back. It would also come with a smaller contract in the short term with more financial flexibility to add firepower at other spots on the roster at the cost of giving up young talent in a trade.
Cease or another replacement candidate like Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, or Shane Beiber might be the likelier choice than Nola in the big picture of the Phillies offseason. Corbin Burnes is the best (and most coveted) option to bolster the starting rotation.
However, it’s important to recognize that pitchers like Aaron Nola don’t come around often. If Dombrowski and the Phillies decide they can move on from him, they need to recognize that Cease or other starters might be a downgrade.