How Dylan Cease's move to Padres impacts his fantasy value

ByEric Karabell ESPN logo
Thursday, March 14, 2024

Dylan Ceasenearly earned the AL Cy Young Award for his work during the 2022 season, when the right-hander won 14 games with a 2.20 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and 227 strikeouts. Cease always had strikeout stuff, and he finally delivered fantastic numbers -- in both rates and volume -- in his age-26 season, becoming a fantasy building block.

Last season, Cease won half as many games, with an ERA more than twice as high, and fantasy managers did not love him nearly as much.

The long-rumored exodus of Cease from the Chicago White Sox to a contending team finally occurred Wednesday, with the San Diego Padres trading several notable pitching prospects to find out what Cease does next. Will he be in the NL Cy Young Award conversation in 2024, or will his ERA and WHIP again damage fantasy rosters?

Cease was unlucky and likely unsatisfied in 2023, playing for a terrible White Sox club that lost 101 games. He struck out more than 200 hitters for the third consecutive season, and his 3.72 FIP was more representative of his skills than the bloated 4.58 ERA. Still, Cease walked 79 hitters, sixth-most in the majors, as he struggled with fastball location. Left-handed hitters slugged .461 off him. Cease dominated the weak AL Central in 2022, but not so much last season.

Prior to this trade, Tristan H. Cockcroft had ranked Cease among the top-30 starting pitchers (and the top-75 overall) in ESPN's points league rankings for a reason. Cease struck out 667 hitters over the last three seasons -- fourth among pitchers -- and nobody made more than his 97 starts. Cease certainly is durable, and volume matters quite a bit in points leagues, even if it comes with an elevated ERA and WHIP.

We have seen what Cease is capable of, though, and ESPN's initial projection of a 3.92 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 217 strikeouts is sensible, though it is easy to realistically dream of better numbers now that he gets to perform for a contending team and in front of a considerably better Padres defense. Do not expect another 2.20 ERA, but something in the low-to-mid 3s with -- again -- more than 200 whiffs is valuable. This may be a top-20 starting pitcher again, so do not let him slip far in drafts.

The White Sox get RHPsDrew Thorpeand Jairo Iriarte, along with relief pitcher Steven Wilson, but none of them are initially worth a look in ESPN's shallow standard formats. Thorpe was a key part of the Juan Soto trade package between the Padres and New York Yankees only a few months ago, but he has yet to appear at the Triple-A level. Neither has Iriarte, whose future role (starter or reliever) remains in question. The White Sox will take things cautiously this season -- and they will lose a lot.