At age 31, Andrew Cashner arrived at Spring Training in Sarasota with the hope of being a stabilizing veteran presence for the Baltimore rotation. He signed a two-year deal with the O’s in mid-February and it was announced on February 15 to be exact — one day after the pitchers and catchers’ first workout.
Cashner made $6.5 million in 2018, will make $9.5 million in 2019 and has a $10 million option for 2020 that is guaranteed if he reaches 340 total innings pitched during the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined, according to Baseball Reference.
As a matter of fact, he actually negotiated to keep his beard, contrary to the club’s facial hair policy. Apparently only goatees were allowed until Cashner.
Before joining the Orioles, the big right-hander played for the Rangers, Marlins, Padres and Cubs. Arguably, his best season was back in 2014 with the Padres, when he had a 2.4 WAR, 1.13 WHIP and a 3.09 ERA in 175 innings pitched.
He finished 2018 — his first year in Baltimore — with a 5.29 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 15 losses and only four wins.
Cashner’s two roughest months were May and August — not counting September, when he allowed 11 runs in 6.2 innings. In May he had a 5.47 ERA and a .327 opponent’s batting average. In August, he had a 6.62 ERA and opponents hit .299 against him.
If you just look at his ERA, Cashner pitched decently in April, June and July, with 4.34, 3.21 and 3.75 ERAs, respectively. But one trend for the righty over the course of the season was a high number of hits allowed — 10.4 per nine innings. Add that to high walk totals and a low ratio of missed bats.
Over the course of 153 innings pitched, he allowed 65 walks with only 99 strikeouts, which came out to 3.8 walks per nine innings and 5.8 strikeouts per nine. His career marks are 3.3 and 6.8, respectively. He also allowed 25 home runs in 2018, averaging 1.5 per nine innings. His career mark is 1.0 home runs per nine.
Staying healthy was also an issue during the season, seeing as the right-hander had multiple stints on the disabled list in 2018. He was out from June 12-20 with a lower back strain and from July 11-22 with a neck strain.
His last start of the season was on September 12, when he lasted two innings and gave up eight earned runs. Because of expanded September rosters at the time, he was never formally placed on the disabled list a third time, but a knee injury kept him from pitching the rest of the season.
If Cashner pitches 187 innings next season, his $10 million 2020 contract option will kick in automatically. He would have to maintain his health over the course of the entire year in order for that to become a possibility, and even then, the Orioles could find ways to skip him in the rotation here and there in an effort to keep his innings down, thus preventing the option from vesting.
On a rebuilding club like the Orioles, a pitcher like Cashner can be useful if he’s eating innings and saving the bullpen from being over-extended. Even with the limited expectations attached to the O’s in 2019, it’s not practical to have a rotation full of young, inexperienced pitchers. There need to be at least a few older veterans like Cashner and Alex Cobb.
The role of innings eater is predicated on at least a modicum of success — a pitcher must be at least halfway decent in order to be left on the mound for five plus innings. So there will expectations of improvement from Cashner next year. It will be very hard to pitch to a 5.29 ERA like he did this past season and still be an effective innings eater.
At the end of the 2019 season, Cashner will be 33 years old and with the Orioles rebuilding timeframe expected to last at least several years, it is not a realistic possibility to expect Cashner to be on the next good Orioles team. Even if his 2020 contract option vests and he sticks around that extra year, it’s very hard to envision the Oriole resigning him again after that.
At this point, Cashner is a rotation placeholder for the immediate future, while the Orioles bring along their young players and see what they’ve got for the next competitive stretch, whenever that may be.