Cubs: With time, the loss of Dylan Cease looms as large as Eloy Jimenez

(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
(Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images) /

When the Cubs pulled the trigger on the deal that sent Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease and two other prospects to the White Sox in exchange for Jose Quintana, it felt like an all-in move – one designed to help get the reigning World Series champions back to the Fall Classic to defend their title.

Of course, that’s not how things played out. Chicago was running on fumes by the time they met up with the Dodgers in the NLCS and were quickly dispatched. At the time, the loss of Jimenez is what really stood out to most fans. But with time, Cease has proven himself to be just a big of a loss.

On Friday, the right-hander dazzled at home against Tampa Bay, striking out 8 – and, as notes, he’s on quite a run that dates back to late last summer:

"In his last five regular season starts dating back to Sept. 17, 2021, Cease is 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA, 40 strikeouts in 25 innings and a .189 opponents average. He has struck out at least eight in six of his last eight starts and is 9-3 with a 3.11 ERA at home since 2020."

If it’s any consolation, at least the Cubs are finally starting to see some homegrown pitching work its way to the big league roster. Left-hander Justin Steele carries a 1.93 ERA through his first starts this season, Ethan Roberts, while raw, has overpowering stuff and Keegan Thompson has slid nicely into the swingman role early this year.

But none of them have yet had the impact of Cease, who is coming off a 2021 campaign where he tied for the league lead with 32 starts of 3.41 FIP ball. Those might not be ace-quality numbers, but there’s no doubting the stuff. According to Statcast, he’s going to his slider more often this season – and it’s no wonder. Last year, opponents hit just .176 against it. 

He mixes his fastball, slider, curve and change-up effectively and when he’s got all four pitches working, it’s game over. Thinking about him atop the Cubs’ rotation is the stuff of dreams.

Cubs: Can Eloy Jimenez stay healthy and become an anchor for the Sox?

As for Jimenez, it’s not that he’s still not capable of changing a game with one swing. But after playing in 122 games in 2019 and bringing home a Silver Slugger in the shortened 2020 season, last year was a near-complete loss thanks to a season-ending injury he sustained while trying to rob a home run in the outfield.

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He’ll need to bounce back at the dish and stay healthy to restore the luster and hype. So far, he’s off to a slow start, batting just .200 with a .227 OBP. It’s definitely early enough that fans shouldn’t be overly concerned – but it’s still strange to look back at that trade nearly five years later and see Cease getting name dropped as an AL Cy Young candidate while Jimenez is yet to recall put it all together over the course of a 162-game season.