The Orioles starting rotation is in such dire need of improvement that even Orioles officials who talk about it acknowledge the need for an upgrade heading into the upcoming season. Neither the internal options nor any of the remaining free agents are exciting. One name that bubbled up on Monday finally represents a possibility for the rotation getting better. MASN's Roch Kubatko wrote to "keep an eye on the Padres' Andrew Cashner."
Cashner, 29, will be entering his final season before becoming a free agent and comes with a $7.2 million salary for 2016. At first glance, he doesn't represent much of an exciting possibility. Cashner's 2015 results were not inspiring. He posted a 4.34 ERA over 31 starts, the worst of the three years he's been a full-time big league starter. Considering that San Diego's stadium has a reputation for being a pitcher's park and the National League lacks the designated hitter, that ERA is even worse than it looks.
In contrast to a free agent option like Yovani Gallardo, however, there is reason to believe Cashner is capable of better than he's shown so far. Batters hit .330 on balls in play against Cashner in 2015 - markedly higher than the .292 mark of his career. He gets the ball on the ground nearly 50% of the time it's put in play, according to Fangraphs. With the Orioles defense being what it has been in recent years, that ground ball tendency could play better in an O's uniform than it did for Cashner last year.
Again unlike Gallardo, Cashner is still working with the same fastball velocity that he had when he had success in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, he had an average fastball velocity of 94.8mph. The previous two years - when he posted ERAs of 3.09 and 2.55, respectively - he was within half a mile per hour with his average velocity each time.
These things don't mean he'd be sure to do better if he was an Oriole in 2016. There could be some other reason why his performance declined in 2015, something that might be connected to why his walk rate jumped from 5.7% to 8.2%. We know the Orioles don't exactly have the greatest track record at getting their starting pitchers to stop walking so many dudes.
Depending on what it might cost to get him in a trade, though, he seems like a player on whom it might be good to roll the dice. The case for the upside seems to be strong enough to warrant the interest, however serious that interest might turn out to be. That's the big question and also the biggest reason not to either panic or get excited over this rumor.
The Orioles would have to actually really want Cashner - as opposed to just let it be known to the reporter for the team-owned television network that they've thought about him. Even if they do really want Cashner, they'd have to really want him for whatever price the Padres might ask. Presumably, the Padres did not just start trying to trade Cashner yesterday. If they were demanding a reasonable price for him, some team would have traded for him before now.
What would you be willing to part with for Cashner? Since it's only one year for a player who is coming off of a down year, the price should not be super high, but the Orioles are not loaded with prospects to give up for even a modest trade. If they do make a trade, one would figure the value the O's surrender in that trade will be worth less than the potential of the #14 pick, which they'd have to surrender to sign Gallardo. That's another point in Cashner's favor.
What if the Padres wanted Christian Walker, who now seems to be blocked by Chris Davis? That doesn't sound so bad, if you think Walker is destined not to be much at the MLB level. The Padres probably think that too. so if they do, why would they want him or any similar player? Maybe they would if they view a potential Cashner trade as more of a way to dump his 2016 salary. That's another big if in this whole thing, and one for which we have no answer unless more information trickles out.
As I always say, probably nothing will happen. It's still interesting that the Orioles have at least discussed a non-horrifying starting pitching option. Maybe they'll do something about it in a way that won't give us all indigestion over the price they pay. Stranger things have happened than that.