On Thursday afternoon, the Baltimore Orioles announced that they have reached a 2-year agreement with free agent starting pitcher Andrew Cashner. The first major league signing of this stagnant offseason, Cashner will make an average of $8 million each season, a relatively cheap contract considering his experience in the MLB. The reaction has been mostly positive, especially from major media outlets, and it appears that the O’s have finally begun addressing their biggest roster hole.
Cashner has bounced around the league over his 8-year career, spending time with the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins, and Texas Rangers, but is coming off one of his strongest seasons. With a 42-64 record in 137 career starts, Cashner has pitched to a respectable 3.80 earned run average. In 2017, the right-hander went 11-11 with a 3.40 ERA in Texas’ hitter-friendly ballpark. Traditionally a ground-ball pitcher, Cashner has the repertoire of pitches to acclimate to the similarly small Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Baltimore desperately needed starting pitching, as the only returning starters are Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. And, while the addition of Andrew Cashner has certainly improved the rotation, there is still plenty of work to be done. Two rotation spots remain, and though the Orioles may have internal options to fill the holes, most – if not all – of these candidates were given a chance to prove themselves last season. The names have become all too familiar: Mike Wright, Gabriel Ynoa, Alec Asher, Chris Lee; the list goes on. To provide competition, Dan Duquette and company have brought in RHP Michael Kelly and Rule-5 southpaw Nestor Cortes.
Another move that appears increasingly likely is the return of Chris Tillman, who posted a dreadful 7.84 ERA in his walk year. For the O’s to have success in 2018, at least one of these seven names will have to provide consistent innings at the back-end of the rotation, and those innings will have to supplement an even more consistent front three in Bundy, Gausman, and Cashner.
Another option – and one that most Orioles fans would love to see come to fruition – that Duquette could pursue is signing a second upper-level arm. Of those available, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are the most enticing. While a reunion with Arrieta would certainly be a heartwarming coup for the Orioles, it is rather unlikely because of his contract. Even though Baltimore signed Cashner to a relatively cheap contract, the O’s are a medium-market team and Arrieta is demanding top dollar. Still, Cobb and Lynn would be welcome additions with the potential to immediately slot into the “Ace” role in the Orioles’ rotation. Theoretically, if Baltimore landed one of these two arms in addition to Chris Tillman, their patchwork rotation could be strong enough to stay afloat in the ultra-competitive AL-East. Here’s what such a rotation could look like:
- Lance Lynn (RHP)/Alex Cobb (RHP)
- Dylan Bundy (RHP)
- Kevin Gausman (RHP)
- Andrew Cashner (RHP)
- Chris Tillman (RHP)
Of course, Baltimore could benefit from a left-handed arm somewhere in the mix, but let’s face it, beggars can’t be choosers. If this was the rotation the Orioles wheeled out in April, the average career ERA would be 4.01 with Alex Cobb and 3.98 with Lance Lynn. Neither number is outstanding, but considering Baltimore’s recent years, anything close to this ERA would be more than welcome.
The Baltimore Orioles have a long way to go before they can be recognized as a potential contender in 2018, but the first step towards this reality is addressing the rotation. Signing Andrew Cashner this week was a strong start – he will be a much-needed innings-eater in the middle of the rotation – but two vacant spots still need to be filled. The slow-developing offseason has allowed Baltimore to wait things out, but Dan Duquette better have done his due diligence. If the Orioles enter the season without making another MLB-level addition to the pitching staff, they better get results or else – as their NFL counterparts like to suggest – “the pitchforks will be out”.