The Orioles have finally gotten their hands on a starting pitcher. MASN’s Roch Kubatko reported on Thursday afternoon that the Orioles are signing free agent Andrew Cashner to a two year contract with $16 million guaranteed.
Cashner, a 31-year-old righty, is coming off of a 2017 season in which he tossed 166.2 innings for the Rangers over 28 starts - an average of just shy of six innings per start - while posting a 3.40 ERA. Sounds pretty good when you only look at those things, although there are red flags to be found. Cashner also struck out just 86 batters on the year, while walking 68.
It’s hard to sustain success while allowing so much contact at the MLB level, especially with the Orioles having had a poor defense last year and probably being in line for another poor defense this year. One plus for Cashner is his ground ball rate, 48.6% in 2017. Ground balls are, by definition, not home runs. He allowed just 15 home runs last season, or 0.8 HR/9. No Orioles starter had a HR/9 below 1.4.
The lack of strikeouts makes Cashner is uncomfortably akin to former Oriole Yovani Gallardo. Cashner will also not cost a draft pick. He averaged 93.5mph on his fastball last season, according to Fangraphs, which is only about 1mph slower than Cashner’s best seasons out in San Diego.
Gallardo was down to about 90mph in his superficially successful Rangers season, though the Orioles still talked themselves into signing him even after they dinged him on his physical. Dan Duquette’s track record of signing or acquiring pitchers lately makes some skepticism entirely understandable.
The Orioles starting rotation was so horrible last year that beggars can’t be choosers. Even if Cashner slides back towards what a 4.61 FIP theorized about his performance, that’s a big improvement over what was coming out of Ubaldo Jimenez or Wade Miley. Barring a disaster, performance from Cashner is going to be significantly better than having Mike Wright in the 2018 rotation as well.
Cashner was actually worth 4.6 bWAR last season. That’s the kind of thing that should have everyone in Birdland doing cartwheels through whatever open space is handy. Even his fWAR, which dings him for the strikeout situation, was 1.9, so if you consider Cashner as a replacement for Chris Tillman (-1.0 fWAR) the Orioles just got three wins better.
That is assuming Cashner’s 2018 looks like his 2017, of course. I’m trying to talk myself into that possibility by ignoring the Gallardo parallels. He should probably be better than having a Rule 5 pick in the rotation, too.
Fellow SB Nationer Chris Cotillo adds that there is a third year vesting option and that, with all possible incentives as well as the option, the contract could max out at $41 million over three years. If Cashner pitches enough to hit all of his incentives and options, we probably won’t be complaining about the money.
The next question for Orioles fans is this: Is Cashner the only starting pitcher they are going to sign or acquire? If they do sign or acquire another pitcher, will that guy have more warning flags than Cashner?
If the answer is yes to either one, any good feelings you may be able to talk yourself into about this signing won’t last long. We’ll be wondering why the Orioles bothered, and why they were too short-sighted to see the writing on the wall and trade their valuable players while they can still get something for them.
On the other hand, if another move is still coming - and by the way, this is all assuming Cashner passes an Orioles physical to let this move happen at all - then maybe we will be able to reasonably convince ourselves that the Orioles won’t have another team torpedoed by a terrible starting rotation.