Not much has gone right for the Orioles this season. But one player in particular has performed better than anyone could have hoped.
Andrew Cashner has been a surprise for Baltimore in his second year with the team. The first was a 4-15, 5.29 disappointment, but at 32, Cashner has looked like the pitcher the Orioles thought they were getting to bolster what was thought to be a playoff contender’s rotation. He’s 8-3 on a team with 24 wins, his ERA is at 4.03, and he’s striking out more batters per nine innings than he has in three years.
When you combine three of those factors, however — age, production and the team’s place in the standings — you get a player who should be a trade deadline chip. And that’s where Cashner’s coming month, the 29 days between now and the trade deadline, gets murky.
Cashner should be cut-and-dry trade bait for a team like the Orioles, whose hopes for winning are 100 percent in the future. While Cashner wouldn’t return any prized prospects, the O’s are casting a wide net as they look to bolster the farm system, and the one or two players he could return could — who knows? — end up being future steady major leaguers, if not true stars.
And Cashner would have value. The Orioles were in an identical position in 2003 with Sidney Ponson, who spent his first five seasons in Baltimore languishing at or below mediocrity. Suddenly, in his sixth season, the switch flipped, and Ponson went 14-6 with a 3.77 ERA in his portion of the season in Baltimore.
Despite the obvious red flags suggesting his season was a fluke, Ponson had a market, and the Orioles dealt him to San Francisco for a package that, led by former first-round pick Kurt Ainsworth, was considered a win for the Birds.
There’s proof throughout the years that teams desperate for pitching will sell themselves on an available pitcher. With Cashner, it might be his bounce-back season. Or his solid numbers in Texas and San Diego. Or the fact that his stats have been immune to the Orioles’ losing ways.
The point is, if the Orioles desire to move Cashner, they’ll get something for him.
That desire, though, is a question mark.
Cashner doesn’t want to go. He made it very clear in late May, when the winds of a potential trade first started blowing. It’s not unusual to see players, even those on bad teams, oppose a trade and even voice that displeasure. Adam Jones didn’t want to be traded during last year’s debacle, and it makes sense. Players don’t just play for teams. They live in those cities. They put down roots. Being traded isn’t just swapping laundry, it’s packing up and moving a life. Some don’t want the hassle.
Where Cashner is hurting the team, though, is with the language he’s using. Throwing out the possibility of refusing to play is a good way to kill whatever buzz you might have on the market. Teams are okay with taking on some risk, but Cashner doesn’t have to slide far to not be worth it in the eyes of many suitors.
Of course, if a team does step up with an offer, the Orioles don’t have to worry about anything other than irritating a soon-to-be-former player. Cashner doesn’t have a no-trade clause, so the Orioles can make any move they want. As long as they’re okay with Cashner saying whatever he might say out the door and once on the other side, they have all the leverage.
But apparently the desire might not be there on the Orioles’ side either. Baltimore has taken a beating all season, with holes popping up faster than the O’s can patch them, and the pitching rotation has been particularly unstable.
The Orioles have had a brutal time just finding pitchers who can get through an inning, and if Mike Elias is at his wit’s end, he might be hesitant to deal one of the few consistent options he’s had this year. Manager Brandon Hyde would certainly be in that camp; Lord knows he wouldn’t want to be dipping into his bullpen by the third inning an extra one out of five games.
So the Orioles are faced with a win-win scenario; either they get a prospect or they keep a solid pitcher. On the other hand, if you’re more negative-minded, it’s a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation - they’re stuck either further compromising a threadbare rotation, or sitting on a chance to improve the club, however incrementally.
Personally, I think it’s hard to turn down a chance to trade a player, particularly one who has turned into one of your best chips. It’s true, the rotation will be dealt the blow, but there should be no stock put into winning games now. Turning down a better future for an easier present would be shortsighted, and contrary to Elias’s vision for this team.
At the same time, the return has to be there, even if the Orioles aren’t expecting anything close to a blockbuster. Trading Cashner for a couple of likely career Double-A players won’t accomplish anything, and would only hurt the present without any real gain anywhere else. Future gains outweigh those for today, but first, the future gains have to be on the table.
As long as Cashner keeps putting up solid numbers, this discussion will continue for the next few weeks. Cashner and the Orioles may have already addressed the topic, but that doesn’t mean things are about to slow down at all.