Former Rangers pitcher Andrew Cashner and Orioles manager Buck Showalter talk about Cashner becoming an Orioles starting pitcher. (Lloyd fox, Baltimore Sun video)
After an entire offseason of being unable to add to a rotation that returned just two starting pitchers from 2017, it took the Orioles just two days into spring training workouts to acquire a much-needed veteran free-agent arm.
The team finalized a two-year deal for a guaranteed $16 million with right-hander Andrew Cashner on Thursday, adding him to a starting rotation that until now had only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. The deal also includes an option for a third season at $10 million that becomes a vesting option if Cashner reaches 340 innings over the two years. If Cashner compiles 360 innings over the contract, it automatically becomes a player option, according to ESPN.
The deal is incentive-laden. Cashner will make $5 million in base salary this season and $8 million next season, and he also receives a $3 million deferred signing bonus paid in two installments of $1.5 million each in January 2020 and 2021, according to the Associated Press. He can also make up to $5 million in performance bonuses each season based on starts and innings pitched.
The Orioles had to clear 40-man organizational roster space with a corresponding move to add Cashner. They did so by placing closer Zach Britton – who is recovering from a ruptured right Achilles tendon – on the 60-man disabled list.
Cashner, who was at the Ed Smith Stadium complex Thursday, will likely report for the Orioles’ full-squad meeting Sunday night and be at the team’s first full-squad workout Monday.
“Yeah, I’m excited,” said Cashner, a native of Conroe, Texas, north of Houston who attended Texas Christian in Fort Worth. “It’s definitely a new journey for me. There’s some familiar faces, [manager] Buck [Showalter lives in] Texas. It’s pretty cool to be back with somebody from Texas, just bring a little home up here and try and get us back to the postseason.”
Cashner, 31, had the best year of his eight-year major league career last season with the Texas Rangers, going 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA over 28 starts spanning 166 2/3 innings. He had 4.6 wins above replacement, nearly twice his previous career high, according to Baseball Reference.
“Obviously we’ve said many times how much further it goes than just five starting pitchers,” Showalter said. “He’s a guy who’s pitched well in the American League. That’s something that I think played in his favor. And doing a lot of the homework on the other part of it, I think we just think it’s a good all-around fit for us and especially since it’s something that is a big need for us and something that’s been in the works for quite a while. Sometimes we get so involved because it doesn’t happen the first two weeks after the season’s over but these things don’t happen easily. We think we have some good things to sell here, and I think Andrew knew that.”
Cashner has spent most of his career in the National League pitching for the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs. He has a 42-64 career record and a 3.80 ERA in 230 big league appearances, 137 of them starts.
“I don’t know a lot [about the Orioles],” Cashner said. “I do know that they need some starting pitching, and here it is, show up every day and whoever I can help out, help out and my job is to come here and pitch and win.”
Though the deal didn’t become official until Thursday, groundwork was first laid during the general managers meetings in November, Cashner’s agent, Jeff Berry, said. Cashner said he first discussed the possibility of signing with the Orioles with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson that month and that talks progressed steadily through the offseason.
“I knew it was going to take a little bit, but I think the amount of things that we talked about in November, I thought it was a great building block,” Cashner said.
After the club’s record four-year, $50 million deal with right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez fell flat, the Orioles were unlikely to make a similar financial investment. They were the beneficiary of a frosty free-agent market that has left several players unsigned as spring training camps began this week in Florida and Arizona.
Still, the Orioles were unlikely to make more than a two-year guaranteed commitment to a starting pitcher, and signing Cashner enabled them to add an established starter without a long-term deal. If Cashner meets his player option for a third season, he would make a total of $26 million in base salary.
Cashner’s deal holds greater value for the Orioles than the free-agent signing of Yovani Gallardo two years ago. Gallardo received a two-year, $22 million deal – also including a third-year option – before the 2016 season, a deal that was originally $35 million over three years before being restructured after a club physical found a problem in his throwing shoulder.
Gallardo struggled in his only season in Baltimore, going 6-8 with a 5.42 ERA in 23 starts, and was traded before the 2017 season to the Seattle Mariners for platoon outfielder Seth Smith and $2 million to cover his option-year buyout.
The Orioles’ signing of Cashner in spring training is typical of the way the Orioles have acquired free-agent starters in recent years – Jimenez and Gallardo were both acquired several days into workouts – but in an unconventional offseason that has left some top-flight pitchers unsigned – a list headlined by Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb -- the Orioles did get ahead of the market in some ways in a bid to improve a rotation that had a major league-worst 5.70 ERA in 2017.
“I’m thrilled to have him here,” Berry said. “I think the Orioles did a good job. It is late. What day is today, Feb. 15? Which is highly unusual to be having a press conference or a player signing like this at that time of the year. So that said, I do think it’s a great fit. I think he’ll do very well and I think the Orioles did a tremendous job in their ongoing pursuit, even though it took longer than most to consummate.”
Cashner said he was looking forward to getting into camp quickly so he could begin to get accustomed with his fourth organization in three years.
“I think as a starting pitcher, it’s important, not just to get in and get ready, but meet your teammates, get to know the coaching staff, get to know the clubbies, get to know everybody and make it a family atmosphere.”
Asked whether another pitching acquisition should be anticipated in the next few days – the Orioles missed out on another free-agent target, left-hander Jaime Garcia, who signed a one-year, $8 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays – Showalter wanted to simply to enjoy Thursday’s news.
“You know, we just signed Andrew Cashner and added him to our club and we’ll see where those things take us,” Showalter said. “My focus is going to continue to be on these 36 pitchers now who are here. We’d love to be able to be eight or nine or 10 deep because it’s a very hard thing to do to pitch, physically. I don’t think we’ll ever quit looking for ways to get better. That’s something that consumes us every day since the last pitch was thrown last year.”