Over the weekend, the Orioles fired up the 2019 hot stove by dealing pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for two prospects. The move did not come as a surprise. Cashner was due to hit free agency in the winter, and with the trade deadline quickly approaching it was widely expected that the veteran hurler would be on the move.
On one hand, this trade makes a ton of sense. The O’s are the worst team in baseball and are in no need of a 30-something pitcher on an expiring contract. They may as well strike a deal and add as much young talent to their organization as possible.
However, the swap is not without its consequences. While Cashner was far from an ace, he was one of the few pitchers on the Orioles 40-man roster that could routinely be counted on to start and make it through five or six innings while keeping his team within striking distance of the opponent.
He had been playing especially well as of late. Over his five most recent outings, Cashner was 4-1 with a 1.41 ERA, .168 batting average against, 18 strikeouts, four walks and no home runs allowed over 32 innings. Of the Orioles 28 team wins in 2019, Cashner was the starting pitcher in 11 of them.
There is no question that the Orioles are a worse team without Cashner in the fold. For a team that is already at or near the bottom of the league in nearly every major pitching category, that’s saying quite a lot.
Baltimore owns the worst team ERA (5.79), FIP (5.71), xFIP (5.25), and home run rate (1.99) in MLB. Losing Cashner and his 3.83 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 4.89 xFIP and 1.03 HR/9 won’t help. At the same time, the O’s are also sending right hander Dylan Bundy to the injured list with knee tendinitis. Those two moves mean that the Orioles are left with none of the starting pitchers that were listed on their opening day roster (Cashner, Bundy, David Hess, and Mike Wright Jr.).
That’s not all.
Nate Karns, who served in an opener role for the Orioles earlier this season, is currently rehabbing in an attempt to return from the forearm strain that had sent him to the 60-day IL back in April. Things aren’t going well for him. In two innings spent across Frederick, Bowie and Norfolk, the 31-year-old has allowed eight runs on six hits, six walks, one home run and three strikeouts.
Josh Rogers, one of the players that was expected to bounce between Norfolk and Baltimore on spot start duty this year, is out for the rest of the season following Tommy John surgery earlier this month.
Luis Ortiz, a key piece in last season’s Jonathan Schoop deal with the Brewers, has a 6.38 ERA and only 47 strikeouts in 66.1 innings with the Triple-A Tides. The 23-year-old has already pitched for the big league team once this season, but struggled to the tune of four earned runs in 3.1 innings.
A pair of prospects, Keegan Akin and Hunter Harvey, are also in Norfolk, but aren’t positioned to be impact players in Baltimore just yet. The club has taken things very slowly with Akin, even keeping him away from big league camp back in the spring. Harvey is currently working as a reliever and won’t be ready for a starter’s workload this summer.
You get the point. The big staff was bad when they had Cashner, and there is little to no help coming from the high minors either. What you see is what you get.
That’s before even mentioning the scary possibility that the team’s lone all-star, John Means, may be due for a course correction following an outstanding first half. His 2.94 ERA is great, but his 4.23 FIP, 5.13 xFIP and .253 BABIP paint a much grimmer picture. Orioles fans may have been given a taste of that in the southpaw’s first start following the Midsummer Classic in which he served up six runs on eight hits, including three home runs.
Without a reliable veteran to lean on, the Orioles pitchers will look to guys named Aaron Brooks, Tom Eshelman and Asher Wojciechowski to help the staff limp through what remains of the 2019 season.
It doesn’t take much number crunching to see that this collection of pitchers has a chance to be one of the worst in major league history. The unit’s 5.79 ERA is currently the 10th worst mark since 1901. Their 5.71 FIP is second-worst. And their 1.5 fWAR is seventh worst. Again, that was with Cashner included and Means pitching at an all-star level.
All of this is not to say that Cashner should not have been traded. Quite the contrary. The Orioles have not hidden the fact that they are tanking. The front office has no real desire to win at the major league level in 2019 or 2020 for that matter. It’s all part of a plan to compile high draft picks, get younger, slash major league payrolls and plan for the distant future.
That does not mean that the O’s fanbase has to like a trade that sends a known commodity to a division rival in exchange for two teenage lottery tickets. But it does provide context with which the move was made. It would be a bummer to end up with the worst pitching staff in major league history, but it won’t matter much if Mike Elias’s plan comes to fruition a few years from now.