Dylan Cease has been at the center of nonstop trade speculation this offseason.
Will he be dealt or will the Chicago White Sox hold on to the right-hander who finished second in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2022?
“Dylan obviously is an established major-league starter, he’s got front-end ability and there isn’t a team that wouldn’t want Dylan Cease on their roster,” Sox general manager Chris Getz said Nov. 7. “Those types of moves are under consideration, they are. If we feel like we can multiply or strengthen our group both presently and in the future, then we’re going to look at that.”
Cease won’t become a free agent until after the 2025 season, so any potential suitor would be in line for two years of his services.
Cease went 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA in 33 starts in 2023. He was fifth in the American League with 214 strikeouts.
The Sox, like every team this time of year, are looking for pitching help — both in the rotation and bullpen. They also could be on the search for catching depth.
With the MLB winter meetings set to begin Monday in Nashville, Tenn., here are three more questions facing the Sox on the mound and behind the plate.
1. How is the rotation shaping up?
Two options for the rotation were included in the team’s first major deal this offseason when the Sox acquired Michael Soroka and Jared Shuster as part of the six-player trade that sent reliever Aaron Bummer to the Atlanta Braves.
Getz envisions “one or both” will be in the rotation.
Soroka, 26, went 2-2 with a 6.40 ERA and 29 strikeouts in seven games (six starts) with the Braves in 2023. He spent most of the season at Triple A as he returned after tearing and then retearing his right Achilles tendon, which led to the right-hander missing the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
“Getting around and meeting some people and knowing a couple of guys on the team already has been good, to come into a situation where it’s different but I feel comfortable already,” Soroka said during a Nov. 20 videoconference call. “You get a chance to work with different people, hear different opinions.
“I’m in a process of learning some new things mechanically and (it) just seems like a great spot to do that and I can’t wait to get to work.”
Shuster, 25, went 4-3 with a 5.81 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 11 starts with the Braves.
Cease and Michael Kopech are the only pitchers still on the roster to make at least 20 starts for the Sox in 2023. Kopech went 5-12 with a 5.43 ERA in 30 appearances (27 starts). He underwent surgery in late September to remove a cyst from his right knee.
“Michael did have a successful stretch last year,” Getz said. “Yes, he didn’t finish the way that he would have liked, I know it’s going to be really important for him moving forward to really have a consistent offseason. That’s why we had the procedure when we did at the end of the year so he could head home being a healthy player and start his training and work toward being a starter next year.
“We believe in Michael Kopech. We’ve seen him be a productive starter, we’ve seen him be a productive reliever. He and (senior adviser to pitching) Brian Bannister have a strong relationship that goes back to Boston. They are continuing to take advantage of that built-in rapport.”
Touki Toussaint and Jesse Scholtens made multiple starts after the team traded Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn in separate moves in July. Combined with Mike Clevinger being a free agent, the Sox rotation will have a much different look than it did at the beginning of 2023 regardless of which direction the team decides to go with Cease.
2. What could the bullpen look like?
Getz said it was a little premature to label anyone as the closer when the topic of the bullpen came up at the GM meetings.
“It’s more than anything, we’ve got to put together a sound starting staff and certainly our relievers will come together at the right time,” he said.
Gregory Santos is “trending in the right direction,” Getz said after the righty’s season ended Sept. 20 because of a flexor strain. He had a 3.39 ERA and five saves as the team’s most consistent reliever in 2023.
“He’s continuing to rehab and he feels good,” Getz said.
As for the bullpen in general, Jordan Leasure could be a name to watch. Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers near the trade deadline in July, Getz said the right-hander was “arguably the best reliever” in the Arizona Fall League after recording a 1.08 ERA in eight appearances.
2020 first-round draft pick Garrett Crochet, who returned from Tommy John surgery but missed time with left shoulder inflammation, is preparing for different roles.
“I want him to be a multi-inning pitcher — if that means it’s going to work toward a starter, so be it,” Getz said. “Primarily we’re going to prioritize his health, and he’s off and running this offseason, and I know he’s excited for whatever opportunity’s given to him next year.”
3. Will the Sox look for more help at catcher?
Korey Lee displayed a strong arm while getting an opportunity to catch down the stretch. He’ll look to make adjustments in the batter’s box after going 5-for-65 (.077) in his 24 games after being acquired in a trade with the Houston Astros.
“He’s got catching and throwing skills,” Getz said. “Our pitchers did like throwing to him. He understands the position. With Korey, it’s really about not only continuing to progress in those areas but his offensive game as well.
“He’s got to make some adjustments and certainly understand how pitchers are going to attack him at the major-league level. There were a lot of positives. I know (manager) Pedro (Grifol) and the staff was really happy with Korey and the potential he brings to the table.”
Lee took over for Yasmani Grandal, who is a free agent. The Sox potentially could add a veteran catcher to the mix.
“We’ll look at ways to strengthen that position to allow (Lee) to feel like we’re putting him in a position to succeed,” Getz said. “He’s certainly going to get his opportunities at the major-league level. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to look to improve the position as a whole.”