Padres Landed Dylan Cease Because A.J. Preller Just Couldn't Help Himself

Chicago White Sox Workout
Chicago White Sox Workout / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

The San Diego Padres landed a huge piece on Wednesday, as they traded for Chicago White Sox ace Dylan Cease. San Diego gave up a collection of prospects in exchange for the 28-year-old righty, but managed to hold on to the top of their farm system. In the end, it was a splash for the Friars. The kind of trade A.J. Preller has been known for. Even in an offseason of restraint for the deal-happy general manager, he couldn't help himself. He had to go big at least once.

In recent years, Preller has swung blockbuster trades for Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove, Juan Soto, Mike Clevinger, Austin Nola and Josh Hader. He has also handed out massive contracts to Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and more. The man loves to make a big move that gets people talking. Wednesday's deal certainly did that.

Cease is an often dominant righty, who is a year removed from an elite season. In 2022 he went 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 227 strikeouts in 184 innings. He struggled in 2023 on an awful White Sox team. His ERA ballooned to 4.58 and his WHIP rose to 1.42, but he did strike out 214 in 177 innings. The Padres are betting that was just a blip, as his stuff didn't really fall off all that much.

In exchange for Cease, the Padres sent the White Sox three prospects and big league reliever Steven Wilson. Righty Drew Thorpe headlines the prospect haul, with righty Jairo Iriarte and outfielder Samuel Zavala also included. According to MLB Pipeline, Thorpe was San Diego's fifth-ranked prospect, Zavala was seventh and Iriarte was eighth. Thorpe is a low-floor starter with an elite changeup, while both Iriarte and Zavala are upside plays with a ton of talent that needs to be molded. It was probably a trade that helps both franchises.

The Padres were missing a top-of-the-rotation arm after NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell departed in the offseason. Cease will make $8 million in 2024 and is under team control for 2025 as well. That's incredibly cheap for a pitcher of Cease's quality. He'll slot into a rotation that includes Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and Michael King, with Matt Waldron or Jhony Brito likely to begin the season as the fifth starter. If everyone stays healthy, that's an excellent top four that would be among the best in Major League Baseball.

Preller had been uncharacteristically frugal this offseason. The Padres decided to cut spending to get below the luxury tax threshold after facing steep penalties for spending several years above it. They traded Juan Soto to clear a ton of cash, while receiving four really good arms and a backup catcher. It gave San Diego the kind of organizational pitching depth it hadn't had in years. It was a sensible move with Soto set to hit free agency after the 2024 season.

Preller also decided to hold on to his top prospects this offseason. Catching phenom Ethan Salas, shortstop/outfielder Jackson Merrill, shortstop Leodalis De Vries, and pitchers Robby Snelling and Dylan Lesko represent the organization's future. Preller refused to mortgage that for short-term gains. Other than signing Jurickson Profar to a $1 million deal and adding a few relievers, it seemed the Padres were essentially holding serve. But in typical Preller fashion, he had a blockbuster deal up his sleeve.

Thorpe arrived from the New York Yankees in the Juan Soto trade, so you could essentially look at the Soto and Cease moves as one big deal. Essentially, the Yankees got Soto and Trent Grisham, the White Sox got Thorpe, Zavala, Iriarte and Wilson, and the Padres got Cease, King, Brito, Randy Vasquez and Kyle Higashioka.

It's worth noting: Soto is costing the Yankees $31 million this year, while Cease, King, Brito, Vasquez and Higashioka will cost the Padres $14.82 million combined. That's allocating resources wisely, something Preller hasn't been known for over the years.

Don't get me wrong, the Padres still have holes on their roster and this trade doesn't solve them. They could use another left-handed bat and another starting-caliber outfielder. Merrill is all but certain to open the season in center field, a position he's never played regularly before. He also won't turn 21 until April 19, so he might go through some things this season as he adjusts. The lineup, led by Tatis, Bogaerts and Machado still needs a boost. Adding a free agent outfielder like Michael A. Taylor, Adam Duvall or Tommy Pham seems like a prudent move. But Preller doesn't seem inclined to spend much or give out a multiyear pact to get it done.

We'll see what happens. It's hard to put anything past Preller, who seems addicted to making splashes. This year, he saved his big offseason blockbuster addition until the end of spring training, but maybe we should have always seen it coming.

He just couldn't help himself.