Here’s my take on the Orioles’ signing of 31-year-old right-hander Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16 million deal that could, ultimately, grow to a three-year, $41 million deal if Cashner hits innings pitched/starts incentives and does not opt out of a third-year option.
They obviously needed to do something
This first point is pretty simple, The Orioles only have two rotation spots filled: Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. And it is mid-February and pitchers and catchers have already reported to Sarasota. By adding Cashner, they’ve acquired a veteran who has pitched in 230 big league games and made 137 starts. In comparison, the possible five the Orioles could run out in their 2018 rotation without Cashner – Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Miguel Castro, Mike Wright and Gabriel Ynoa – have combined for 333 MLB games and 177 big league starts.
Cashner’s a solid call – given the money and years
Free agency is a crapshoot, especially when you’re dealing with pitchers. The Orioles need at least two veteran starters for 2018, and Cashner fits when you’re looking at it from a standpoint of money and years. The Orioles did not want to go beyond three years for a starter, and, in this deal, they get Cashner for 2018 and 2019, and potentially for 2020, when a vesting option kicks in if he pitches a combined 340 innings in the first two seasons. Cashner made $10 million in a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers last year in which he was 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA in 28 starts. So, it’s actually a paycut as far as annual value is concerned (though there are some easy performance incentives to surpass $10 million each year). The contract is even more club friendly considering that only $5 million of the deal is on this season’s payroll. In other words, the Orioles were looking for an affordable, veteran starter and believe Cashner can be it.
So how does Cashner fit on this team?
On the surface, solidly. He induces ground balls, pitches to contact and doesn’t give up many homers. He usually throws strikes, though his 64 walks in 2017 were the most of his career. The real red flag, though, is that he had 86 strikeouts in 166 2/3 innings – 4.6 per nine innings — by far a career low. In his nine-season career, he averaged seven strikeouts per game. And that makes you wonder if the propensity for contact is going to really hurt him in Camden Yards, especially if the Orioles’ defense continues to slip. The other negative is that he has not been particularly durable during his career, and the Orioles need innings eaters. His 184 2/3 innings in 2015 for the San Diego Padres is his career high – by nearly 10 innings. At 31, you can ‘t count on him far-reaching his previous innings totals, though there are incentives for him to do so.
The incentives make the contract intriguing
If Cashner meets all the incentives, he’s going to make a ton of money. And the Orioles will be exceptionally happy. Although the contract is a little complicated, the basics are this: Cashner will get $16 million over two years for the Orioles no matter how he pitches. That’s $5 million in 2018, $8 million in 2019 and the rest in deferred payments. If he combines for 340 innings in those first two years, a third season will kick in for $10 million. If he combines for 360 innings in those first two seasons, the option goes from vesting to a player-controlled one. Meaning Cashner can opt out of that third year to test the free-agent market if he believes he can get more than a one-year, $10 million deal. Now, Cashner also has inning and start incentives for each of those three years which can earn him as much as $5 million per year. To get to that $5 million cap, each season he must make 30 starts and 200 innings. What’s more likely is that he can get $3 million extra per season by starting 20 times and reaching 150 innings. All told, the deal could be worth $41 million over three years, but it likely wouldn’t get to that point. If Cashner hits 200 innings and 30 starts in two consecutive years, you’d have to think he’d turn down the player option and become a free agent before the 2020 season.
What does this mean for the team going forward?
Well, there is one less spot to fill in the rotation, and that’s important. They also didn’t break the bank – so they should still have money to spend. But here’s my gut call: I believe this is their big-ticket item. The only three starting pitchers that are likely to get more than Cashner moving forward are Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn. The Orioles have not been serious players with either Arrieta or Cobb, so you can scratch them off the list. And although they’ve expressed interest in Lynn, it would be at a reduced price (and years). My guess is they’ll be far outbid for his services. Given that the Orioles have two starting candidates without minor league options remaining and a couple Rule 5 guys in the rotation mix, my guess is the Orioles feel they only have one other open rotation spot available now that Cashner is in. That could be a for a lefty like Jason Vargas or for previous staff ace, right-hander Chris Tillman. So, I think the Orioles can still add a rotation arm, but it’ll be on a deal lesser than Cashner’s.
What makes the most sense going forward?
I’d make big league offers to Tillman and Vargas now. Legitimate ones that take the market depression in consideration as well as club’s holes and the need to get these guys into camp quickly. The waiting has helped bring the dollars down, but now it is time to make another move or two. Solid, one-year big league deals should get it done. Wait and mess around with minor-league deals and both will be off the table soon enough. If you sign both, great. You can use them. If you only get one, OK, you are still better than you were in 2017. And then I’d spend some more money for a left-handed-hitting right fielder. Jon Jay is still the guy I’d target.
What’s the sense on Cashner in Camden Yards?
Well, the groundball/limited-homer thing certainly helps. He’s pitched there twice in his career and has a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings. Way too small of a sample size to get a clear read. But he did spend a year pitching in hitter-friendly Arlington, Texas and had a 2.72 ERA in 14 games there in 2017.
What about his trademark beard?
It likely will have to go. The team rule has been neatly trimmed facial hair only. That really shouldn’t be a concern, though. The Orioles need to be more concerned other things, like adding pitchers that can get major leaguers out.
Cashner improves the Orioles’ rotation. And it’s not a ton of money, relatively speaking. But there are obvious warts, like a declining strikeout rate and no 200-inning seasons logged. This move makes the Orioles better. But they need two more acquisitions – including at least another in the rotation – to give the sense that this club isn’t going backward.