It’s not hard to conclude that the Astros need pitching right now. The back end of the rotation has been in serious flux following injuries to Brad Peacock and Corbin Martin, the ineffectiveness of Collin McHugh, Josh James, and Framber Valdez, and whatever’s going on with Forrest Whitley in the minors. Between all of that, the Astros have burned through a lot of their Opening Day contingency plans for the rotation.
There are a lot of options out there on the market as well, but the Astros are hardly the only team looking for pitching right now, and a lot of the hottest names on the market are going to command some big packages. I like Matt Boyd, for instance, but if the Tigers demand that the Astros include one of Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley for him (and the former has been rumored to be part of the Tigers’ demands)…well, I don’t know that I like him that much.
Having back up plans on the trade market is a good thing, especially if payroll considerations start to have an impact (which seems like it could wind up happening with Houston). To that end, I’ve been trying to look at bargain options that the team could consider to fill in now and even take some strain off the bullpen and young arms down the stretch. I still think Tanner Roark would be the ideal type of this move, a fourth/fifth starter who would come cheaply and could even start a Game Four in the ALDS if it came to that, but with the Reds looking better and better, that move seems off the table.
Are there any other pitchers who fit that description, though? Not quite that neatly, but there’s one interesting name who’s worth thinking about more than most: Andrew Cashner. Indeed, if you sort by either Fangraphs (1.5) or Baseball-Reference (2.3) WAR, Cashner is one of the better starters on a losing team, and he jumps up the rankings once you remove the ones locked down for the long haul.
Let’s start with the basics: unlike Roark, it’s pretty easy to envision the Orioles moving Cashner. Baltimore already has a convincing lead in the race to the bottom of the league this year, and offloading useful players like Cashner will only help them in that. His salary isn’t terribly unreasonable, at $8 million per year. His contract is up at the end of the year (he has a vesting option for next year, but he’s unlikely to reach the nearly-100 more innings he needs for it to take effect), and the Orioles will likely be willing to chip in money if it gets them a better return.
The bigger questions are what could the Astros expect from him the rest of the season, and what would they have to pay as a result? Cashner is having a solid bounce back season, posting a 4.03 ERA and a 4.43 FIP in 89.1 innings to date. After a year in which he had multiple stints on the IL and was towards the top of the league in home runs allowed, he’s mostly returned to his previous, middle-of-the-pack ways, and looks like a perfectly acceptable back-end starter.
Most projection systems seem to have him being with over half a win the rest of the way, which wouldn’t be bad as a fifth starter option the rest of the way given the Astros’ struggles there so far, and could go a long way to alleviating depth concerns if the current injuries problems linger. Of course, those systems also all have him spiking to a FIP over 5.00 the rest of the way, which is maybe too pessimistic given that the only season he’s done that badly was his injury-marred 2018. At 32, I wouldn’t bet on his performance or health long-term or anything, but he only needs to hold up for three more months or so. On the whole, it’s probably better to go with the conservative estimate, but there is potential for more there.
Given all that, it’s hard to see the Orioles getting too much for him. Between 0.5 and 1.0 win the rest of the way, even if Baltimore takes on all of his salary, that’s still only going to be something like $4 to $5 million in surplus value, which would be an incredibly easy package for the Astros to build. They could conceivably even do it without breaking into their top ten prospects, which means that it could still work even if the Astros decide not to make any big moves this year, or if they do make a big move and still need more depth.
Really, being a reliable arm who can eat innings down the stretch at reasonable price is probably Cashner’s biggest selling point. There is one other thing worth exploring, though: even if he becomes your fifth starter down the stretch or gets bumped entirely because everyone gets and stays healthy, he still could have a place on the team the rest of the way in the bullpen.
Cashner has usually posted better splits one time through the order, and this year is no different. His opponent wOBA for the first time through the order (minimum 20 innings) is in the upper third of pitchers, and his .218 opponent average, 1.10 WHIP, and 3.90 FIP wouldn’t be bad additions to the bullpen if he could replicate them there. Cashner’s weakest pitch has been his fastball, despite his above-average speed on it; going by Baseball Savant, hitters have posted a .375 WOBA and a .401 xWOBA against it, far and away the worst of his arsenal, and facing a limited set of batters may allow him to move away from using it so much in favor of his other pitches.
Overall, I still don’t think Cashner would be my top priority, but fewer pitchers are going to come at a lower price, which is nice. If injuries continue to hinder depth, or if plans to get a better pitcher fall though, or even if those plans don’t but another emergency arm is needed, he wouldn’t be a bad second option. And the added potential for him to move to the bullpen is intriguing, since he might be able to contribute in the postseason even if he finishes the year mostly as a fifth starter or swing man spotting for young arms to manage their workload. All in all, that makes him one of the more interesting names to keep in mind going forward.