Chicago baseball report: What’s next for White Sox after Dylan Cease trade — and how Cubs will define bullpen roles

The White Sox turned another page Wednesday, trading ace Dylan Cease to the San Diego Padres.

The deal was a topic of discussion Thursday at Camelback Ranch. In return, the Sox acquired pitchers Drew Thorpe, Jairo Iriarte and Steven Wilson and outfielder Samuel Zavala. Thorpe (No. 5), Zavala (No. 7) and Iriarte (No. 8) were ranked among the Padres’ top 10 by

The Cubs, meanwhile, haven’t made any decisions on how they want to fill the final two rotation spots, one of which will replace right-hander Jameson Taillon, likely to start the season on the injured list because of lower back tightness. Relievers are expected to start pitching in back-to-back games by early next week to prepare for the regular season, which kicks off March 28 in Arlington, Texas.

Every Monday and Friday during spring training, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead for the Cubs and Sox. Want more? Sign up for our new Cubs and White Sox newsletters.

Trade talk becomes reality for Sox players

Sox players were well aware of the possibility of a Cease trade. It became reality Wednesday when he was dealt to the Padres.

“We are excited, new opportunities for him (and) for the guys that we brought back,” pitcher Michael Kopech said. “It’s going to be different. I’ve come up with Dylan in this organization. It’s been a while. Him and I have gotten pretty close. Had a lot of good conversations about the game, about life.

“And I’m going to wish him nothing but the best. As far as the business goes, I’m sure that he’ll take his talents and do what he needs to do over in San Diego and have a great career for himself.”

Andrew Vaughn played behind Cease the last three years at first base and in the outfield.

“There had been speculation about it pretty much all year,” Vaughn said. “He’s a great dude, and I definitely wish him the best of luck in San Diego. Stuff is elite. It’s going to be tough to see him go, but we’ve got to get over the hump and keep pushing.”

Catcher Korey Lee said Cease’s impact will remain even after the trade because of the influence he had on other members of the staff.

“We lost someone, but we still have a lot of knowledge,” Lee said.

Vaughn hadn’t had the chance to dive too deep into the additions, but he played summer baseball in college with Wilson.

“Great guy, looking forward to having him on our squad,” Vaughn said. “Looking forward to seeing what these younger guys bring.”

Cubs try to balance how to clarify roles

As manager Craig Counsell continues to learn his team and the players who are expected to help the Cubs over the next six months, communication is an important part of the process.

One element to the relationship building is whether to define roles to give players clarity and how that might evolve.

“I don’t think there’s a hard and fast way to do it,” Counsell said. “As people we love to know exactly what we’re going to do, but at the same time it also is not always best for the group to make it so defined. Sometimes it’s a little harder and we need hard from our players, right? And we need hard from our coaching staff where it’s not quite as defined because the game doesn’t always present itself in this clearly defined way.”

The Cubs bullpen is projected to feature a lot of veterans, led by newcomer Héctor Neris. Early in camp, Neris touted the importance of relievers being flexible with their roles and pointed out that if pitchers don’t take care of their jobs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, the ninth-inning save opportunity won’t exist. Neris saw during his two seasons in Houston how that collective mentality paid off in the bullpen, winning a World Series title in the process.

It’s a philosophy that echoes Counsell’s big-picture approach.

“That’s why this place we start with, with all the pitchers, is our job is to get outs,” Counsell said. “And if we start from that place, but certainly work to be a little more defined, I think that’s the best place to be.

“It makes the players a little more open to, like, that is our job. Our job is to get 27 outs as a group. How we get them, I don’t think it matters as much as getting 27 outs as a group.”

Number of the week: 8

Strikeouts by Cease in 3 1/3 innings in his final appearance in a Sox uniform Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Ballpark. Cease has 14 strikeouts in 8 1/3 innings this spring.

Weekend ahead: Cubs

  • Friday: at White Sox, 3:05 p.m.

  • Saturday: vs. Royals, 3:05 p.m., Marquee; at Angels, 3:10 p.m.

  • Sunday: vs. Rangers, 3:05 p.m., Marquee

Ian Happ (left hamstring) remains on track to be ready for opening day despite not getting into a Cactus League game. Happ continues to take on-field batting practice and has gotten live BP on the minor-league back fields. Counsell said Thursday that Happ is in good shape and “certainly” will get into games next week.

“We’re looking good,” Counsell said. “He is running, so no concerns really. I mean, we obviously can’t have setbacks but have no concerns right now with the schedule.”

Nick Madrigal’s status for the start of the season is a little less certain. Madrigal (right hamstring) also has been taking BP but is behind Happ’s schedule. Counsell acknowledged there’s a chance Madrigal could begin on the injured list.

“The other thing that we’re going to have to decide at some point is the IL stint means he misses (five) regular-season games because of the back date, so it’s not something that’s going to have a big effect,” Counsell said.

Watch live: Cubs prospects vs. White Sox prospects at Sloan Park

Weekend ahead: White Sox

  • Friday: vs. Cubs, 3:05 p.m., NBCSCH

  • Saturday: vs. Giants, 3:05 p.m., NBCSCH; at Mariners, 3:10 p.m.

  • Sunday: at Athletics, 3:50 p.m.

Kopech has made 52 starts the last two seasons. The Sox announced Thursday the right-hander is moving to the bullpen. He has a relief outing scheduled for Sunday against the San Francisco Giants at Camelback Ranch.

“It’s just a nice opportunity,” pitching coach Ethan Katz said of the move. “You don’t know what our bullpen is going to shake out to be and we don’t necessarily have a closer. It doesn’t mean that could be him. It could not be him, we don’t know, but obviously getting that aggressive approach and that mindset could be a really good thing.”

Kopech made 40 relief appearances and four starts in 2021 as he made his way back after missing 2019 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and 2020 when he opted out the pandemic-shortened season for personal reasons.

What we’re reading this morning


“It’s a really good group that we got back and we lost a really good pitcher. We’re excited about the group that’s coming back.” — Sox manager Pedro Grifol on the Dylan Cease trade