With three holes to fill in their starting rotation, the Orioles will probably be linked at some point this offseason to just about every available pitcher on the free agent market. As the hot stove season opens, the O's minds are on two of the lower-end pitchers available, according to MASN's Roch Kubatko: Andrew Cashner and lefty Jason Vargas.
Cashner is coming off of a season in which he made $10 million with the Rangers on a one-year contract. Though he posted a solid 3.40 ERA that would easily make O's fans mouths water, and at 31, he's not old, he comes with his question marks.
Most concerning is that Cashner may have been very lucky to have such a low ERA with a miniscule strikeout rate. He struck out just 86 batters in 166.2 innings, while walking 64. That's a precipitous drop compared to the 2016 season, when Cashner struck out 112 batters in 132 innings. As home runs exploded across baseball, I also have to wonder if Cashner was fortunate to allow just 15 home runs.
We can also get the sense from those innings totals that Cashner is not an innings eater. He has only started 30+ games one time in his career. This past season, he averaged fewer than six innings per start, though he didn't miss by much.
What's really weird about the vanishing strikeouts is that it's not accompanied by any drop in fastball velocity. According to Fangraphs, Cashner averaged 93.4mph on his fastball this season. That's the same as last year, though it is a mile per hour down from what he posted with the Padres in 2013-15.
The last time the Orioles signed a bad starting pitcher, it was a guy who was coming off of one moderately successful season with Texas who had bad peripherals. That was Yovani Gallardo. At least Cashner didn't receive a qualifying offer, so he won't cost a draft pick to whoever signs him. MLB Trade Rumors projected he would receive a two year, $20 million contract.
Vargas holds appeal because he is left-handed and the Orioles seem to hold a dogmatic belief that there must always be a lefty in the starting rotation. That is effectively the extent of his appeal.
No, I'm being unfair to Vargas, at least based on his results in the most recent season. He threw 179.2 innings for the Royals and posted a 4.16 ERA. That's not an amazing number, but when judged against the O's league-worst rotation, it looks a whole lot better than that.
Vargas has been with the Royals for the past four seasons. That means he's been pitching in what's generally seen as a pitcher-friendly park in Kansas City for half of his games. There would always be a concern about the jump to Camden Yards. With that said, Vargas had a road ERA of 4.34 in 2017 - again, not great, but his non-failure is not a home-helped mirage.
What is a bit more worrisome about Vargas is that he posted a 6.38 ERA in the second half of the season. Combine that with what was, according to Fangraphs, an average fastball velocity of 85.6mph this past season, and it's hard to hold even muted excitement.
If the Orioles sign three pitchers and Vargas is the least exciting of them, that's probably not a bad thing. If they sign only one free agent from elsewhere and it's Vargas, that would not be a good omen for hopes for next season.
Vargas also did not receive a qualifying offer. He'll be 35 before next season starts. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that he will receive a one year, $10 million contract from the Orioles.