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The pros and cons of an Andrew Cashner return to Baltimore

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The Orioles need pitching, and a former starter of theirs is on the market. Cashner is available, but would it be a good idea for the Birds?

Cleveland Indians v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

With the trades of Jonathan Villar and Dylan Bundy, it’s already clear the 2020 Orioles will look plenty different from the O’s of this past season.

Perhaps, though, there could be a familiar face coming back to Camden Yards.

Andrew Cashner is a free agent, the Orioles are in need of starting pitching help after dealing Dylan Bundy and his 161.2 innings pitched, and people have already started putting two and two together. Rich Dubroff brought up the idea, and Dan Connolly was on it as well.

So...should it happen? Should the Orioles bring back the beard? Let’s examine.

Pros

Getting Cashner would check off a lot of boxes. You’d be getting a proven inning-eater who has had no trouble making his starts, and someone who’d be on board with stepping in and helping out a rebuilding team with no real hope of competing this season. After all, Cashner was in the same environment last year, and wanted to stay so much that he threatened to retire if he was traded.

This isn’t a small thing to consider. Constant losing tests a player’s personality and professionalism, and with young players and pitchers sure to be playing key roles for the Orioles next year, you don’t want a Steve Kline, someone who decides weeks into the season that he really doesn’t want to be around anymore and intoxicates the culture. The Orioles instead are hoping to find the opposite, someone who can do his part on the field while imparting a veteran’s advice on the impressionable youngsters.

Cashner knew full well what was going on in Baltimore, and still wanted to be a part of it. At the very least, he wasn’t dying to get out. That’s a good start.

On the field, Cashner would make sense as well. The last thing the Orioles would want to do is spend money to bring in someone who’s constantly unavailable. With Cashner, those concerns are eased. He’s reached 150 innings pitched in four of the last five years, and was at 132 the one year he missed. He also would have reached 25 starts in each of the last five years were it not for being moved to the bullpen last year with Boston (we’ll get to that).

Cashner is a good bet to chew up starts and innings and not be forcing Brandon Hyde to patch up his rotation every few weeks, and he has enough of a track record of success to provide confidence in a solid performance. He was obviously one of the biggest surprises of Baltimore’s first half last season, going 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA, and his resume, which includes three seasons as a starter with an ERA under 4.50, shows that he’s had that kind of success before.

Furthermore, poor performance with the Red Sox after he was traded hurt his value on the market, and he stands to make considerably less than the $10 million option he would have gathered had the Orioles never traded him. For comparison’s sake, Martin Perez signed for one year and $6 million with the Red Sox, and he is four years younger than Cashner while sporting a 5.12 ERA to Cashner’s 4.68 and a 7.3 K/9 to Cashner’s 6.5.

Cons

Cashner’s performance last year had the feel of fool’s gold, a higher level out of nowhere with seemingly no explanation. Is it wise to assume he’d be able to do it, or anything close, again?

Cashner pitched poorly in his first season in Baltimore, going 4-15 with a 5.29 ERA in 2018. His WHIP of 1.582 was the highest he had ever posted for a full season. His season in 2016 wasn’t much better, as he went 5-11 with a 5.25 ERA between the Padres and Marlins.

His time in Baltimore last season would have been easier to accept on its merits, considering that his 2017 season in Texas (11-11, 3.40) was strong too, had it not been for his stint with Boston. Cashner was a letdown with the Red Sox, going 1-4 with an 8.01 ERA before being booted out of the rotation, and looking all the while like a pitcher without the stuff to be a starter in the majors.

It made his start in Baltimore feel like smoke and mirrors, and some stats indicate it might have been. Cashner’s BABIP of .256 was his lowest since 2012, and his 1.194 WHIP while an Oriole was his lowest since 2014. He walked 2.7 per 9, his lowest rate by more than half a walk since 2015. He was pitching better, and getting luckier, than he had in a while, and it equaled a surprisingly strong half. Hard to imagine that all coming together again.

Verdict

One man’s opinion: I say no to Cashner. His regression after the trade was predictable, and his ineffectiveness with the Red Sox was jarring. It was a different environment, of course, but the .339 batting average and 1.019 OPS against in his starts are scary. He might not be that bad in Baltimore, but I fear his numbers being closer to his stats in Boston than his figures with the Orioles.

It’s easy to understand the interest, however. He’s less of a question mark than a lot of pitchers on the market, he’d likely be an easy signing, and he’d fill the need of chewing up innings.

And if he does slide on a team expected to lose over 100 games again, what’s the real harm?

There are reasons for the Orioles to be interested, and there are reasons for them to pass. We’ll see which ones the O’s gravitate towards.