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MLB Musings: Dylan Cease’s trade; injuries to Gerrit Cole and Devin Williams; and now presenting ‘The Jackson Three?’

Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the Dylan Cease blockbuster trade, it had been a head-scratching offseason for the San Diego Padres, an organization that has been at the forefront of recent off-spending sprees but suddenly put the brakes on payroll this winter to avoid paying the luxury tax in 2024.

They traded superstar Juan Soto. They allowed starting pitchers Seth Lugo, Michael Wacha and Blake Snell (we think) and all-world closer Josh Hader to walk into free agency (Snell has crept). And they allowed venerable manager Bob Melvin to leave for the division rival San Francisco Giants without a drop of compensation.

Somehow, this formidable team that made the National League Championship Series in 2022 and has several superstars remaining, including Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts and Fernando Tatis Jr., looked like a clear fourth in the NL West heading into the 2024 season.

Now, I’m a little more hesitant to claim the Padres dead before the first regular-season pitch is thrown.

San Diego Padres trade for Dylan Cease changes perspective

Dylan Cease against the San Diego Padres
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Wednesday’s trade for Cease has put the Padres back on my contending radar. Although they sent three well-regarded prospects in Drew Thorpe, Jairo Iriarte and Samuel Zavala, as well as big-league reliever Steven Wilson, to the Chicago White Sox, they didn’t give up any of their four best prospects, including catching phenom Ethan Salas.

There are a few important things here to remember about Cease. He’s only 28. He has two years remaining before free agency, so he’s not a one-year rental. Despite having a rough year in 2023 (a 4.58 ERA), he is still an elite starter in an industry with few of those that are healthy.

Cease has made 30 or more starts in three consecutive seasons, twice leading the AL in that category.

His biggest issue has been control – he walked 79 batters in 177 innings and hit a league-high 14 in 2023 – but he’s not the first wild starter to come to San Diego and succeed. Snell has the same reputation, and he won the 2023 NL Cy Young.

What Cease provides the Padres is an ace to slot ahead of solid veterans Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrave, allowing Michael King to downshift to fourth. That could be a sneaky strong spot for the former New York Yankees swingman, assuming he is not needed in the bullpen.

I might still pencil in the Padres behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and the Giants in the division. But, with Cease leading the rotation, I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished second and made the playoffs.

Related: Gerrit Cole’s future with the New York Yankees now in question

Holding breath with Gerrit Cole in the Bronx

Gerrit Cole new York Yankees
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News this week that reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole will likely miss at least the first month and maybe more of the season with inflammation in his pitching elbow could have been worse. There appears to be no tear in Cole’s elbow ligament, and he will only need rest and rehab before attempting to return within the next month or two.

The Yankees and their fans can exhale a little, but when dealing with an elbow injury, there will always be reason for concern until proven otherwise.

It’s no surprise there were reports that the Yankees were talking to the White Sox about Cease before he was dealt to the Padres. And it would be no surprise if we hear the Yankees have stepped up their pursuit of limbo free agents Snell and Jordan Montgomery.

This still should be the Yankees’ wake up call. Go get one of those two. And do it now. Snell is the better pitcher but will cost more; Montgomery is a former Yankee who has recent and successful experience in the postseason.

Even if Cole returns in late May or early June, that’s a significant absence for a rotation that has no sure things. It’s not a bad group – Carlos Rodón, Marcus Stroman, Nestor Cortes and Clarke Schmidt – but it is probably fourth in the AL East without Cole.

Snell changes that equation and so does Montgomery. It’s ridiculous those guys are without a job in mid-March, but the Cole scare – even if it simply were a scare — should make the Yankees jump into action.

Rough blow in Milwaukee with Devin Williams

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Devin Williams
Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are few players whose rise to stardom has been more intriguing than Brewers’ closer Devin Williams. A second-round selection in 2013, Williams was a late bloomer who didn’t make the majors until his seventh season as a pro. He’s been lights out since, winning the NL Hoffman Reliever Award in 2020 and last year.

This season, though, he’ll be sidelined for at least two to three months with stress fractures in his back, according to reports Wednesday. The Brewers have already messed with a roster that won the NL Central last year, and now their rock-solid bullpen has lost its anchor.

Joel Payamps and/or Bryse Wilson will likely have to pitch in the ninth while Williams is out, and although both have performed well for Milwaukee, they are not Williams.

The bigger concern here is whether Williams can bounce back effectively from back issues. We view shoulder injuries as potential death knells for pitchers, but back problems have limited many hurlers’ careers. Williams turns 30 in September, so he’s still young enough to recover and succeed, but he’s also at the age where pitchers often begin to see a dropoff of their arsenal.

That would be a real shame here since Williams has busted his butt to become one of the game’s elite relievers.

The Jackson three taking MLB by storm???

At some point this year – perhaps Opening Day – it’s expected MLB will get a double dose of the Action Jackson experience, with top overall prospect Jackson Holliday of the Baltimore Orioles and No. 2 prospect Jackson Chourio making their big-league debuts.

Well, we might get a triple feature of Jacksons – the Jackson Three, if you will.

Padres manager Mike Shildt said this week that 20-year-old outfielder Jackson Merrill will be on the team plane to Korea for next week’s season opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Although Shildt wouldn’t reveal more, it looks like Merrill could be San Diego’s starting center fielder in that series – making him just the third player younger than 21 to open a season in center in the last 50 years. The other two, according to MLB.com, are Andruw Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. That club may double later this month if Chourio, who recently turned 20, gets the starting center field assignment with Milwaukee.

The third 20-year-old Jackson – Holliday – has a legitimate shot at starting at second base for the Orioles on Opening Day. But he won’t be in center field. That I can guarantee.

By my unofficial count, using baseball-reference.com, there have been seven men who have used Jackson as a first name and played in the majors. There are three others whose given first name is Jackson but went by another name (two Jacks and a Riggs). There are several who have had Jackson as a middle name, including Hall of Famer Gaylord Jackson Perry.

I guess Perry thought going by an unconventional name like Jackson would be too awkward.    

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