Has trade partner for one of Mariners’ young pitchers emerged?

Jan 28, 2024, 1:35 PM

Seattle Mariners Chicago White Sox Dylan Cease...

Dylan Cease pitches for the Chicago White Sox against the Seattle Mariners in 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

(Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

When the Seattle Mariners entered the offseason, one of the biggest question was whether they would trade one of their promising young starting pitchers to net a big haul.

Now almost four months later, it’s possible that idea may still be alive.

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In a USA Today article by Bob Nightengale published Saturday night, the longtime baseball columnist reported that the Mariners have “quietly entered trade talks with the Chicago White Sox.”

Who Nightengale said Seattle has interest in is a bit surprising: right-handed starting pitcher Dylan Cease. Perhaps just as surprising: Nightengale writes that the White Sox seek “a package centered around young starters Bryce Miller or Bryan Woo.”

Trade a young pitcher with a bright future for a less-young pitcher coming off of a season with a 4.58 ERA and MLB-leading (not in a good way) 14 wild pitches? Doesn’t sound all that enticing at first.

Then again, Cease is only a little over a year removed from finishing second in the American League Cy Young Award race. In 2022, he posted a 2.20 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, 3.10 FIP and 227 strikeouts over 32 starts (184 innings). He also led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings with 12.278 in 2021, and he’s got some nasty stuff that would look great next to Seattle’s top three starters of Luis Castillo, George Kirby and Logan Gilbert.

Cease had a rough season much like his team did in 2023, however. With the White Sox stumbling to a 61-101 record, Cease had a 1.418 WHIP and generally finished with his worst statistics since his rookie season in 2019.

There is a lot to like about Cease, including the fact that he is only 28, is owed just an $8 million salary in 2024 (per Spotrac) and has two years of club control left. But if this is the trade involving Woo or Miller that the Mariners are considering, not many could say it’s one they expected.

Playing hardball?

One hole that could be poked into the Cease rumor is that the Mariners have indicated they’re pretty content with the state of their pitching staff, which gives off the impression that it would take a trade offer that truly blows them away to move Woo or Miller. Of course, there’s always the possibility they’re just saying that to drive up the price for a trade, but the M’s have been steadfast in their stance.

“We want to supplement the pitching we have,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander said Jan. 9 on Seattle Sports’ Hot Stove. “When you are trading off your major league team, you are removing wins from the table. You are removing players who are going to contribute wins today. So the idea of trading today’s wins and getting back the same number of wins in a different shape? You look a little different but are you really any better by doing that?

“We explored a lot of different concepts this offseason and we will continue to explore them, but I think it is important for us to understand who we are and what we are built around. We did need to get more consistent offensively and I think we’ve started to address that. I’d like to continue to do more if we can, if the market will allow, but I think that the re-balance and reshaping the roster, not tearing the core apart was real important to Jerry (Dipoto), myself, ownership, really the whole baseball ops group. When you have young pitching, it’s really hard to find. Don’t treat it lightly.”

Dipoto, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations, made the possibility of a young starter being traded this offseason seem even less likely when he talked to reporters on Jan. 5, shortly after the team made a multi-player trade with the San Francisco Giants.

“The fact that we were able to go out and put together deals, be it free agency or trade, that we feel like we built a complete team without tapping into those young members of our rotation, I want to say it’s a bit of an offseason achievement for us. I didn’t know if it was going to be possible,” Dipoto said. “We never liked the way it looked. We are a team that we have developed a lot of those players we’re emotionally tied to and invested in.

“The more we’ve wrapped our arms around the idea of just leaning into what we do best, which is we pitch, and this is still a fairly young team that can do a lot of interesting things. It will always be central to that pitching staff, which, obviously, there hadn’t been a lot of change to the 13 (pitchers on the staff). We’re really glad that that same group is here and really anticipate that that will be what it looks like when the season begins.”

Do the White Sox have what the Mariners want?

Taking all of that into account, it would make sense that if the Mariners were to trade Woo or Miller, they’d want a pitcher who could slide into the rotation back as a piece of their return. Cease would fit the bill, but what the Mariners could use most is yet another bat, with third base and corner outfield the top areas where they could stand improvement.

Do the White Sox have anyone worth mentioning in that regard? Yes, but each of them come with a caveat.

First, there’s switch-hitting infielder Yoán Moncada. A former top prospect, Moncada has been Chicago’s primary third baseman when healthy since 2019, but he carries a hefty price tag with a $24 million contract for 2024 (per Spotrac) plus a club option at $25 million for 2025, with a $5 million buyout. The White Sox would probably need to cover a good bit of Moncada’s salary if he were included in a trade with the Mariners.

Andrew Vaughn, a right-handed power hitter who has played all the corner positions in both the infield and outfield, could be another potential target. But he’s just 25 and has three years of club control left, which would drive up his price in a trade.

Big outfielder/designated hitter Eloy Jiménez could be a one-year fit, although the M’s already have a new right-handed slugger at DH in Mitch Garver, and we may as well mention center fielder Luis Robert Jr. while we’re at it even though he seems basically untouchable.

The 26-year-old Robert is an All-Star and Gold Glove winner coming off a career year for the White Sox, slashing .264/.315/.542 for a .857 OPS with 38 home runs, 80 RBIs and 20 stolen bases over 145 games. And he’s on a pretty team-friendly contract – owed $12.5 million this year and $15 million next year, with club options for $20 million in each of 2026 and 2027 (per Spotrac) – so good luck finding the right trade combination to get him that doesn’t come with extreme discomfort.

If the Mariners are going to make a move, it would likely be soon. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Peoria, Ariz., in just over two weeks on Feb. 14.

More on the Seattle Mariners

Video: Grading Seattle Mariners’ offseason with Mike Salk and Shannon Drayer
Close Look: Two Mariners legends set to enter Baseball Hall of Fame race
The fun story of how Cal Raleigh heard about Haniger’s Mariners return
Drayer’s Notebook: Seattle Mariners sign local product to swing role

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