Andrew Cashner of the San Diego Padres was recently identified by Bless You Boys Rob Rogacki as a potential low-cost, high-upside trade option for the Detroit Tigers. Cashner, who will hit free agency at season's end, is a lock to be moved by the trade deadline. Now, Jon Heyman of Knuckleball reports that the Tigers are indeed thought to be one of the teams calling on the hard-throwing right-hander.
The Tigers’ apparent interest in the 29-year-old Cashner makes sense on several levels. General Manager Al Avila is in the difficult position of looking for value on the bargain side of the aisle. Cashner fits the bill in that regard.
In addition, manager Brad Ausmus was a special assistant of baseball operations to the Padres from 2011-2013, and is no doubt very familiar with Cashner. Relationships and testimonials still play a role in evaluating how players will fit with a new team, beyond the statistics, and the Tigers do have those ties at play with the Padres’ organization. Couple that with the Tigers' love for big, hard-throwing right-handers, and there seems to be a decent match to be made.
Cashner could fill a valuable role for the Tigers
A blithe description of Andrew Cashner might go something like, "Mike Pelfrey with strikeouts." The sinkerballer is capable of dialing his velocity up into the high-90’s, but averages 93.6 mph this season, a tick harder than Pelfrey. Cashner also gets a ton of groundballs, with his rate sitting at 47.3 percent of balls in play. Were he to come to Detroit he’d clearly benefit from pitching with a much better double-play combination behind him than he’s endured in San Diego.
However, unlike Pelfrey, Cashner does have real swing-and-miss ability that could be a ticket to a successful stint with the Tigers in multiple roles. So far in 2016, Cashner has struck out 7.49 batter per nine innings, a respectable strikeout rate even for the National League. In addition, Cashner’s slider has shown marked improvement this season. As Fangraphs’ August Fagerstrom recently documented, since returning from a June stint on the disabled list Cashner has been throwing the slider more than ever in his career with fine results.
What hasn’t improved, is Cashner’s penchant for injury. While he’s had no arm trouble, he’s already been to the disabled list twice this season. Minor hamstring and neck injuries that have limited him to 73.1 innings, continuing a trend of nagging injuries that have plagued him throughout his career.
The injuries aren’t the only red flag on Cashner’s ledger. His excellent seasons in 2013-2014 have given way to home run issues that have killed his effectiveness. 1.35 home runs per nine innings this season is a rate that should give anyone pause, particularly as Petco Park in San Diego isn’t exactly a hitter’s paradise.
However, much like with our own Justin Verlander, Cashner’s home run rate was largely ruined by one disastrous outing. On July 8, in his second start since returning from the disable list, Cashner surrendered four home runs in one brutal outing against the Dodgers in which he didn’t make it through the third inning. Subtract that outing and you have a fine home run rate of 0.89 per nine innings.
It’s tempting then, to squint a little bit and see the potential in Andrew Cashner. Despite durability concerns, he has a pair of good seasons as a starter under his belt, and even last year’s 3.85 FIP is quite palatable considering the Padres’ defensive woes and overall lack of team talent. Cashner might represent a small upgrade over someone like Pelfrey or Matt Boyd in the rotation.
As a reliever, imagine him throwing at max effort for an inning at a time, with a blossoming slider as his out pitch. Cashner tops out at about 98 mph. Bring that heat in a relief role and back it with a whiff rate over 20 percent with his slider and you’ve got the makings of a classic swingman capable of giving you a spot start and then returning to middle relief. A pitcher like that could potentially be useful to a Tigers’ team looking to shore up a weakness.
Do the Tigers even need Cashner's help?
There's a real question as to whether Cashner even fills a need for the Tigers at this point. With Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris each on schedule to return to the Tigers’ rotation shortly, the need for starting pitching help appears a short-term concern at most. Matt Boyd and Anibal Sanchez have already handled those spot starts with some success in recent weeks. Adding Cashner would leave the roster bloated with lower quality starters the team has no set role for when Zimmermann and Norris return. You could wind up with Norris and Boyd forced back to Toledo or pitching the dregs of the bullpen's innings.
The other issue is cost. Perhaps Cashner does have the potential to recapture his best stuff, but a sober view reveals him as no better option than Matt Boyd. And Matt Boyd is a reasonably good bet to be the cost extracted by Padres’ GM A.J. Preller for Cashner. There’s no guarantee that such a trade even represents an upgrade for the Tigers, and they’d be trading away Boyd’s years of control and potential for the hope of a short-term boost.
It doesn't help the Tigers that Cashner's last few starts have ranked among his best work in recent years. Interest has waxed as a result, with the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays all reportedly giving Cashner serious consideration. The Rangers have the minor league firepower to beat any offer from the main players. The Tigers' could probably make this happen otherwise. However, the cost, and the slim margin of short-term improvement to the roster, would seem to make this a superfluous move in the short-term, and a poor one beyond 2016.