Sure, there are no untouchables on a team that lost 115 games. But the Orioles still need to make sure that there’s no repeat of September 2018.
Because of injuries to starting pitchers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb, former manager Buck Showalter was reduced to using marginal bullpen prospects to start games in the season’s final few weeks.
While it may be tempting to think about trading Cashner and Cobb, there are reasons to resist that thought. With a record of 4-15 and a 5.29 ERA, Cashner has limited appeal on the market.
Cashner is set to make $9.5 million in 2019 and has a $10 million team option for 2020. That option becomes guaranteed if he pitches a combined 340 innings in 2018 and 2019. Because of a knee injury that cost him three final starts in September, Cashner pitched 153 innings in 2018.
In order to guarantee the option, he’ll have to pitch 187 innings, which would be a career high, next season.
The Orioles could certainly listen to trade offers, but with his rough season, Cashner’s value isn’t likely to be great, especially with that $10 million contract for 2019.
If the Orioles want to trade him, they’ll probably have to wait for the July 31 trading deadline and see what they can extract from a team hungry for another starter.
Cobb, whose blister issues cost him September innings, too, has a much more onerous contract. There are three years and $43 million remaining on his deal.
His 5-15 record and 4.90 ERA last season were somewhat misleading because he was 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA in the second half.
Cobb had two truncated starts on Sept. 11 and Sept. 23, but the blister issue isn’t a serious one, and should have healed by now.
If no team other than the Orioles was willing to give Cobb a four-year contact worth $57 million last offseason, why would another one deal for him with three years and $43 million left on the deal?
Cobb had full no-trade protection in 2018 and can block deals to 10 teams for the final three years of his deal.
A new management team could decide to try to shop Cashner and Cobb as they could with Dylan Bundy and Mychal Givens, the most marketable players on the roster.
However, they’d be selling low in each of those cases.
They’d also be ignoring the reality that they have to field a team that’s perhaps somewhat more competitive than the team they fielded in 2018.
The new hierarchy’s philosophy will have to be continually explained to an impatient fan base, one that was 464,000 lower in 2018 than it was in 2017. With attendance already at a 40-year low, the Orioles will want their team to be more entertaining in 2019 to avoid further erosion in attendance.
If the Orioles traded Bundy, Cashner or Cobb, the team could be looking at a frighteningly inexperienced starting staff, one that must play nearly half its games against the American League East.
Even with the three, the staff is full of questions. Getting two starters out of a combination of incumbents David Hess and Yefry Ramirez plus John Means, Luis Ortiz, Josh Rogers and Jimmy Yacabonis seems to be risky.
While Hess and Ramirez combined for 31 major league starts in their rookie seasons, Ortiz, Rogers and Yacabonis started just 11 times. Means came up late in the season for a relief outing lasting 3 1/3 innings.
The Orioles have Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Dillon Tate, who were starters at Double-A Bowie, but none is likely to begin the season in the major leagues.
They also have three promising arms at High-A Frederick, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alex Wells, but they’ll likely begin the season at Bowie.
The Orioles had hoped that Hunter Harvey, their No. 1 pick in 2013, would be pitching in the big leagues by now, but his season was cut short in June and was limited to 32 1/3 innings.
That massive inexperience could well force the next head of baseball operations to delve into the secondary and tertiary free-agent market, searching for thrifty pitchers on one-year contracts who can eat innings and buy the Orioles some time while their young arms continue their development.
That means it’s wise to hold on to Bundy, Cashner and Cobb. If the Orioles traded Bundy next July, he’d have nearly 2½ seasons before free agency, as Kevin Gausman did before his trade to the Atlanta Braves on July 31.