If the Orioles are going to add a pitcher that can work in the top half of their rotation and do it without spending a massive amount of dollars, then right-hander Dylan Cease may be a good target.
Cease, who turns 28 on Dec. 28, has two years of team control remaining before free agency and the Chicago White Sox have him on the market. A recent report said the Los Angeles Dodgers and White Sox had talks on Cease.
Cease has had an interesting three-year run of pitching. His ERA+ was 112 in 2021, soared to 180 as he finished second in the AL Cy Young voting in 2022 and was slightly below average at 97 last year.
After going 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 2022, he was 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA last year. Over 177 innings he had a 1.418 WHIP, allowing 1.0 homers per nine with 4.0 walks and 10.9 strikeouts.
It has been pointed out that Cease had a better than average .260 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in ’22 but that elevated to .330 last season when he played on a 101-loss team.
Also, during the 2022 season, Cease rated in the top one percent of MLB in pitching run value and last year was in the bottom 23 percent. Something changed with his pitch quality, and it was not nearly as good.
But if you rate him over the bigger sample of the last three years, he comes out looking pretty good, going 34-24 with a 3.54 ERA and 3.40 FIP. His ERA+ for the three years is 121. Kyle Bradish posted a 146 ERA+ last year, but a pitcher 21 percent better than league average over a three-year period with nice swing and miss rates and who made 98 starts in that span would be a nice addition for the Orioles.
During his strong 2022 season, Cease had a run where he set a major league record. For 14 consecutive starts from May 29 to Aug. 11 he allowed one earned run or less and he did that 23 times for the season.
Perhaps the best news for the team adding Cease if they do move him is the price tag. He is due for $8.8 million this year through arbitration. Even if he had a strong season coming up and doubled his 2025 salary to $17.6 million, he would be costing a team $26.4 million over the next two years.
If a team such as the Orioles added him and he left via free agency after the 2025 season, they could make him the qualifying offer and get a draft pick if he leaves for another club.
At a time when the Orioles are not likely to pay the huge dollars that a top-end free agent pitcher might demand, they are better set to compete well with other trade competitors. The O’s have a fertile farm and numerous top prospects that could be dangled to get Cease or just about any available player right now.
They might not win a bidding war, or even get in one, but they could compete with most teams in putting together a competitive package to get a nice addition via trade.
Win the battles you can win.
Some have speculated such a trade package would likely have to start with two team top 10 prospects with maybe one being a top 50 prospect to get a pitcher of this quality. And they might need another player or two at that.
Should the Orioles consider such a move?
We of course are speculating on the trade package. But Cease would be an addition for more than one year at a very reasonable cost for such a talent. The Orioles are loaded with prospects and such a deal seems a good match.