As the days tick away until Opening Day, the consensus is that the KC Royals are the AL Central's most improved team this offseason. They remain one of the AL's most active teams regarding free agency and have opened several 40-man spots for those acquisitions via trade. The fanbase has clamored for the Royals to be more transactional for years. Now, in general manager J.J. Picollo's second offseason, fans are getting their wish.
The Royals are a trendy pick to win the AL Central simply because of the division's low standing compared to its peers. The division was the only one last season with multiple 100-loss teams, and the winner, the Minnesota Twins, did not even surpass the 90-win mark. None of the Royals' divisional foes have added much this offseason, and the Twins have arguably lost the most. The Chicago White Sox finished fourth in 2023 with a 61-101 record. Despite the 2024 squad having ample Kansas City connections, they do not look better ahead of spring training. Their prize trade chip, pitcher Dylan Cease, remains the focus of trade chatter around the league.
If there is any player Royals fans should want out of the division, Cease is a prime candidate.
Cease has 15 appearances against the Royals, tied for the most appearances he has against an opponent. Across his 2021 and 2022 appearances, he had a sub-2.00 ERA against the Royals with 61 strikeouts in 45 innings in those seasons. The Royals exacted a measure of revenge in 2023, but Cease struggled throughout the season as the White Sox fell short of expectations.
MLB contenders are looking for Cease to be the pitcher who garnered MVP votes and finished second in Cy Young voting in 2022, not the pitcher he was in 2023. In 2022, Cease had an outstanding season, posting a 2.20 ERA and striking out 227 batters. Meanwhile, his 2023 performance saw a 4.58 ERA and a WHIP of 1.418. This contrast between his exceptional performance in 2022 and his replacement status in 2023 highlights the potential value that Cease can bring to a team.
However, the White Sox have set an excessive asking price for Cease, demanding multiple top prospects in return. This high asking price has deterred many teams from pursuing a trade for Cease, as they are unwilling to give up such valuable assets. The excessive asking price has created a barrier for the White Sox to move Cease and has limited the number of potential suitors for his services.
But his $8 million arbitration salary does not make him a financial albatross and increases his trade value. In comparison to other pitchers with similar performance and experience, Cease's salary is quite reasonable. Additionally, the financial flexibility of many MLB contenders allows them to absorb his salary without it impacting their ability to make other moves or stay under the luxury tax threshold. Therefore, Cease's salary should not be seen as a financial burden for teams interested in acquiring him.
Whether it be ahead of Opening Day, at the trade deadline, or anytime in between, Royals fans should want Cease out of the Central. By removing Cease from divisional play, the Royals would no longer have to face his dominant pitching, which has often been a challenge for their hitters. Trading Cease away would not only put Chicago in the divisional basement but also boost Kansas City's winning odds.