On Thursday afternoon, the Orioles added a veteran starter to a rotation in desperate need of reinforcements. So who did Dan Duquette sign to bolster the Orioles’ starting group? Did he bring Jake Arrieta back? What about Alex Cobb? Well, it wasn’t either of those two. Instead, the O’s agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with journeyman starter Andrew Cashner. Will the 31-year-old Cashner’s presence push the Orioles back into playoff contention? His track record suggests that he won’t.
Through seven big-league seasons, Cashner has produced league average results on the mound. He has pitched to a 3.80 ERA for his career, though his advanced numbers weren’t as kind (3.99 FIP, 4.12 xFIP). He has averaged about 1.3 fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) over his lengthy career, which pegs him as a back-of-the-rotation innings eater than a top-level starter.
Cashner spent 2017 with the Texas Rangers and pitched well, but his success last year came with some red flags. His 3.40 ERA was more than a run lower than his FIP (4.61). He thrived in Texas thanks to a .266 opponents batting average on balls in play–league average is between .290 and .310–and 8.6% HR/FB ratio (10.4% for his career) that aided his 0.81 HR/9 total (he did give up more homers in Texas than he did on the road). Cashner’s ability to keep the ball on the ground helped him keep the ball in the park, but he is moving from the majors eighth best park to launch home runs in to the third in Camden Yards. Combine that with the powerful AL East lineups and Cashner may see his home run totals skyrocket.
The evidence shows that Cashner is an average starter and nothing more. Here’s the thing, he is still a MASSIVE upgrade over whoever the Orioles were planning to stick in that rotation spot. Baltimore’s starting pitching dilemma has been well documented: they ranked last in ERA, 28th in FIP, and 27th in WAR. Their projected staff “ace” Dylan Bundy finished with a 4.24 ERA last year, though he did show flashes of brilliance. This team had Mike Wright penciled into the rotation before the Cashner signing. No team that’s serious about contending would put Mike Wright in their starting five.
Adding Cashner doesn’t make the Orioles a contender, I think even the most die-hard fan will admit that. Honestly, No pitcher short of Yu Darvish or another ace of that ilk will move the O’s up the standings in 2018. The Yankees look like they’re back (unfortunately). The Red Sox still have the same collection of young, talented players.
The Orioles are essentially the same team too, and I don’t mean that in a good way. They are still the same free swinging, homer hunting lineup that doesn’t steal bases or manufacture runs. Their rotation still features the same fly-ball inducing, erratic bunch that struggle to keep opponents off base.
After whiffing on Ubaldo Jimenez, Orioles owner Peter Angelos has been reticent to spend big money on a starter–although anyone could have envisioned that signing not going well. This time around, he doled out modest money for a modest starter. In the end, Cashner will only deliver modest results for a team that needs more to compete with the AL East powers.