Jason Vargas and Andrew Cashner are two pitchers who spent the better part of this decade constantly linked to the Orioles in rumors about trades and free agency. That extended into this past offseason, and while Cashner ended up with the Orioles on a two-year, $16 million deal with a third-year option, Vargas signed a similar deal with the New York Mets three days later.
It’s fair to say they’ve worked out a bit differently.
Cashner, 31, enters his matchup with Vargas on Tuesday at Camden Yards with a 3-10 record and a 4.83 ERA in 22 starts. The left-handed Vargas, 35, is 2-8 with an 8.75 ERA in 12 starts.
Like with Wade Miley before them, the Orioles have a history of finally getting the pitchers they covet — especially left-handers. But they might have avoided a real headache in a year full of them by missing out on Vargas, and despite all that’s gone badly for them this season, it looks like Cashner was the right pitcher to stabilize their rotation.
While Chris Tillman’s injuries caused him to completely flame out, it seems Alex Cobb has gotten settled in quite nicely over the past month or so and found some of the good feeling he’d been searching for after signing in late March.
Yet in context of the nine free-agent pitchers who signed multiyear deals this past offseason, the Orioles’ contributors rank near the bottom in their performances this year.
The class is headed by Miles Mikolas, who resurrected his career in Japan and was an Orioles target before he signed early in the offseason for slightly less money than Cashner and Vargas did. Mikolas, 29, was an All-Star in his stateside return this season and has outpitched the top names in this free-agent class while earning that honor.
Former Oriole Jake Arrieta has been a stabilizer with the Philadelphia Phillies, while the only other pitchers of the class to post an ERA+ above the league-average of 100 is Jhoulys Chacín of the Milwaukee Brewers and Mike Minor of the Texas Rangers. The Chicago Cubs’ Yu Darvish has disappointed some.
Still, that leaves Cashner and Cobb in the bottom half. Cashner had a steady month of decline in the ERA column before a rough start Aug. 2 in Texas that no doubt changed the outward appearance of his season, while Cobb has a 3.41 ERA over his past 10 starts, down to 2.17 in his past six.
There’s still plenty of opportunity to deliver value for their deals — Cashner already has in a strict wins-above-replacement-to-dollars sense, and Cobb has plenty of time on his four-year deal left to do that. Given the team’s rebuilding plan, their long-term contributions to the Orioles might be what they bring in trades should they continue to be durable and consistent.
But the meeting of Cashner and Vargas, two longtime Orioles targets, for two teams in the middle of lost seasons goes to show just how volatile the market can be — and how fickle the return.
Here’s how this year’s free-agent pitchers in MLB Trade Rumors’ Top 50 who received multiyear contracts are faring in the first year of their deals, ranked by ERA+, which adjusts for the league’s scoring conditions and ballpark. All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.
Miles Mikolas, Cardinals – 139 ERA+; 3.2 bWAR, 12-3, 2.85 ERA with a 1.05 WHIP in 24 starts
Jake Arrieta, Phillies – 125 ERA+; 2.5 bWAR; 9-7, 3.33 ERA with a 1.23 WHIP in 23 starts
Jhoulys Chacín, Brewers – 107 ERA+; 0.7 bWAR; 11-4, 3.91 ERA with a 1.22 WHIP in 25 starts
Mike Minor, Rangers – 102 ERA+; 1.8 bWAR; 9-6, 4.61 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP in 22 starts
Andrew Cashner, Orioles – 87 ERA+; 1.0 bWAR; 3-10, 4.83 ERA with a 1.51 WHIP in 22 starts
Yu Darvish, Cubs – 87 ERA+; -0.1 bWAR; 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP in eight starts
Tyler Chatwood, Cubs – 85 ERA+, 0.0 bWAR; 4-5, 5.06 ERA and a 1.80 WHIP in 22 games (19 starts)
Alex Cobb, Orioles – 79 ERA+; 0.2 bWAR; 3-15, 5.31 ERA with a 1.49 WHIP in 22 starts
Jason Vargas, Mets – 43 ERA+; -1.3 bWAR; 2-8, 8.75 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP in 12 starts