Dylan who? Cease trade rumors distracted from real Braves heist of former teammate

Being outbid by the San Diego Padres for right-hander Dylan Cease worked out nicely for the Atlanta Braves, who discovered a hidden gem in his former teammate Reynaldo Lopez, who has shockingly established himself as an ace.
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves / Kevin D. Liles/Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

Only a couple of weeks before the start of the 2024 MLB campaign, the San Diego Padres emerged as the winners of the Dylan Cease sweepstakes, landing the 2022 AL Cy Young runner-up as part of a blockbuster deal with the Chicago White Sox. However, they were not the only club vying for the 28-year-old right-hander's services.

The Atlanta Braves were another team pursuing Cease, even dangling 21-year-old infielder Vaughn Grissom in trade talks. Alas, the ace ultimately wound up in San Diego, and the rest is history.

However, missing out on Cease proved to be a happy accident for the Braves, thanks to the emergence of one of his former White Sox teammate, veteran pitcher Reynaldo Lopez, who has established himself as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter.

Dylan Cease trade rumors distracted from real Braves heist of former teammate, Reynaldo Lopez

Lopez has been a serviceable if not uninspiring option for much of his nine-year career, boasting a 4.73 ERA through 515.1 innings pitched as a starter before this season. But he's elevated his game to new heights in 2024, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.34 ERA, 1.091 WHIP and 40 strikeouts across 40.1 innings in seven starts.

No one expected this type of production from Lopez when Atlanta signed him to a three-year, $30 million contract this past offseason, not even the Braves, who initially had to compete with A.J. Smith-Shawver and Bryce Elder for his spot in the rotation. Moreover, he played for three different teams last year, making it even more improbable of an outcome.

Not only are the Braves getting away with paying Lopez a criminally low $4 million in 2024, but they also have him under team control at a cost-friendly rate through 2026 (not including the club option for 2027), something the Padres will not be able to say for themselves once they inevitably make Cease one of the highest-paid pitchers in baseball after gutting their farm system to acquire him.