Andrew Cashner: The Typical Orioles Acquisition
On Thursday, February 15, 2018, the Baltimore Orioles finally fulfilled their destiny…they signed Andrew Cashner. In a move that was as predictable as the sun rising every day, the Orioles got their man! Why was it predictable? Well, Cashner does sort of play the role of a ML starter. He has had 3 straight years of at least 27 starts, not to mention the 26 starts he had in 2013. He has been relatively durable in his career and he does get groundballs at a relatively decent rate. Combine those things with a guy who was never going to get a big payday, the fact that he has been on the Orioles radar for the entire offseason and the idea that the Orioles continue to prove they don’t know what to look for in a pitcher and you have a match made in heaven.
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When evaluating any player acquisition, there are always several ways to look at it. The first way I want to take a look at this deal is the contract itself. Nothing Cashner will do is going to hurt the team. If he is terrible and the team moves him to the pen or cuts him, it’s not much money to eat. Look at this way, the great Tommy Hunter signed for more money than Cashner did. Cashner probably could be decent in the pen if they had to move him there. He still throws hard, so maybe he could be an asset out there if he doesn’t work out as a starter. The Orioles are also only paying him 5 million in 2018 because they deferred 3 million dollars from 2020-2022. There are some incentives tied to the deal and it could become a 3-year deal if he reaches a certain IP requirement. If he gains more with the incentives, so be it. That can’t be anything but good news. If he gets the 3rd year vesting option, all that means is that he stayed in the rotation and wasn’t a complete train wreck. Still, for 10M, you hope he is traded or just doesn’t reach that IP plateau. My problem with the contract is I don’t get why you gave the 2nd year. I get that signing a pitcher to a 1 year deal to have him come to Oriole Park may be difficult but these guys aren’t getting signed. They need to get paid and start getting ready for the season. We saw Jaime Garcia, a pitcher whom I think is better, sign for 1 year to pitch in Toronto. Pitching in that park and still being in the AL East isn’t exactly an exciting proposition either but yet, Toronto got it done. We saw Wade Miley get a minor league deal that was heavy in incentives. Can anyone tell me right now that they are certain Cashner is better than Miley and if you do believe that, is the difference a minor league, incentive laden deal and a 2/16 guaranteed deal? I just don’t see that. On top of that, with so many guys still unsigned, I am going to assume that more pitchers get lesser deals that we will sit back and say, yea I like that deal better than the Cashner deal. Again, the Cashner deal doesn’t really hurt you no matter the outcome but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have made a better decision.
Another way to look at the contract is the player themselves. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs, did an excellent job analyzing Cashner and looking at the sabermetric side of things. I don’t need to re-hash too much of what he said but obviously there are some warning signs. The K rate jumps off the page at you. A K rate under 5 is horrendous. And it’s not like that K rate is accompanied by a very low walk rate. His walk rate was 3.46 last year and it was over 4 the year before. His HR rate was pretty good last year but he also had a HR/FB% that was well below his career average. His xFIP of 5.30, reflected that. All in all, his peripherals were pretty terrible. He doesn’t miss bats, he doesn’t throw a lot of strikes and he doesn’t throw a lot of first pitch strikes. He also isn’t an innings eater. He has shown durability but not someone who will go deep into games. There really is very little to like about him as a pitcher except for one big thing. He has been a starter since 2013. In that season, he had 31 appearances, which included 26 starts. Since then, he only has 1 relief appearance. He has been a ML starting pitcher for 6 seasons. He has thrown close to 900 ML innings. In those innings, he has managed to have an ERA+ of 102. He has had well above average ERA+ seasons and well below average seasons as well. He is exactly what you think he is, a mediocre big-league starter. While that isn’t the direction I would go, there is some level of value to that, especially for a team that needs to fill 3 rotation spots. A real live, breathing starter that has had success in the major leagues. It’s not the greatest thing to write on one’s baseball epitaph but hey, it’s better than nothing!
The last way to look at the acquisition is how it effects the team itself. The Orioles had a terrible rotation last year. They had a starters ERA that was closer to 6 than 5. Everything that could go wrong for them pretty much did. The exception was Kevin Gausman bouncing back and having a good second half and Dylan Bundy getting through a season healthy and relatively successful. The rest of the rotation was a (in my Donald Trump voice) disaster. Does Cashner improve that? Yes, he probably does. Personally, I think you could have brought Miley and Jimenez back and it would have still been improved. Those guys aren’t good, but I do think they could be more productive than they were last year. What does 170ish innings of 4.25 ERA baseball give the Orioles? It does help. It helps to rest the pen. It helps to not have guys in the rotation that aren’t ML starters. So, yet again, we can use that “value” word here because there is some level of value that is represented with this signing. The problem for the team is the real chance that he is just much worse than that. It’s a very real possibility. If they do happen to get lucky and he has a good first half but the team is still out of it, maybe they can trade him. I tend to think even though the salary isn’t much, that they could have a difficult time moving that contract, but you never know. Perhaps teams are being too passive in signing guys this offseason and they will realize they need to add some starters and he becomes more valuable than we think. That’s at least something to hope for…I guess.
The bigger picture is still what bothers me though. I have stated that I can’t remember the last time I was less enthused for a baseball season. The Orioles are one of the 3-5 worst teams in the AL IMO. This signing doesn’t change that. You have failed to trade Machado, Britton tears his Achilles, you have made zero progress on an extension with Schoop and you have done nothing to make the long and short-term team significantly better. I believe this team will sign another starter. They very well could add a guy like Jason Vargas or someone like that. They could attempt to bring back Tillman on a deal like what Miley got. Either way, I do feel like they will add another veteran arm but again, who cares? The player they will get will likely not be good. They aren’t going to trade the young players needed to add a better starter like Colin McHugh and quite frankly, they probably shouldn’t because they aren’t going to win with him anyway. They also won’t spend the money for an Alex Cobb type guy. So, here we are again, just going from mediocre starter to mediocre starter in hopes we can find the next Jeremy Guthrie, Miguel Gonzalez or even the next Rodrigo Lopez. Just piece together something, see if it sticks and hope Gausman and Bundy can lead the staff.
So, there you have it. A pretty typical Orioles decision. Nothing to get you excited, nothing to make you believe they understand the big picture but also nothing that really ends up hurting the club long term, even if he stinks. And let’s face, if that doesn’t inspire you as a fan, what will?