Orioles reporters Eduardo Encina and Peter Schmuck talk about the Orioles signing of starting pitcher Andrew Cashner. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — The acquisition of free-agent starting pitcher Andrew Cashner, announced Thursday night, isn’t going to turn the Orioles into a division title contender, but it’s finally a step in the right direction.
The Orioles had to sign a veteran starter and they did, which puts them one more veteran pitcher away from the possibility of starting the regular season with an adequate rotation.
It’s still highly suspect, and that probably won’t change unless baseball operations chief Dan Duquette pulls Jake Arrieta out of his hat, which isn’t going to happen unless there is a sudden and dynamic change in organizational philosophy.
The O’s now have three starters who have had success in the major leagues. Dylan Bundy established himself at the top of the rotation with a team-leading 13 victories last year. Kevin Gausman remains a potential ace, but has to find a way to be consistent from April through September.
Cashner is going to help if he pitches the way he did for the Texas Rangers last year. He was 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA and a good hits-to-innings ratio, though the statistical gap between his strikeouts and walks was the narrowest since his first year in the big leagues.
His credentials lend themselves to whatever opinion you want to form about him. It looks like he figured something out last season, even though his strikeouts declined sharply. But critics of the deal will be quick to point out that his career win-loss record is 22 games below sea level.
It’s all true. The good news, if that’s what you’re looking for, is that he pitched well in the American League last year. He’s not coming over from the designated-hitter-less National League, so you don’t have to add a theoretical 11 percent to his ERA. And you can rationalize the career win-loss record because he hasn’t ever played on a winning team and his career ERA is a solid 3.80.
The Chicago Cubs were awful in 2010 and ‘11. The San Diego Padres averaged 74 wins during the six years he opened the season with them. And the Rangers sagged to 78-84 last year.
It’s downright counterintuitive that he jumped to the DH league and pitched much better than he had in his two previous seasons.
Of course, the Orioles made the worst free-agent deal in club history when they banked on a short recent sample and gave Ubaldo Jiménez a disastrous four-year, $50 million contract before the 2014 season.
This has little chance of being that, because the salary and term are much lower and Cashner has only once in eight seasons had an ERA equivalent to Jiménez’s combined 5.22 ERA over his four years in an Orioles uniform.
Cashner isn’t going to be the savior of the pitching staff, but he does fill one of the three empty rotation slots and should allow Orioles fans to fantasize that Miguel Castro can bounce off a very solid 2017 season in the Orioles bullpen and evolve into an effective starter.
That would leave the club in a position to fill the fifth slot with one or more of the unproven pitchers who they’ve been queuing up to compete for a swing role.
Though a scenario like that would leave the O’s in much better position than they were at just about any time last year, it would not leave them much closer to being truly competitive in the AL East.
Duquette knows he needs one more decent starter to narrow the talent gap after the first losing season of his Orioles career and — unlike past springs when he was picking last in a played-out free-agent market — there still are plenty of possibilities available.