Revisiting some free agent pitching talk

Over the weekend, the Orioles were once again linked to free agent right-hander Andrew Cashner. When the free agent period began, ranked him as the No. 27 free agent on a list of all available players. They projected he would get a two-year deal for $20 million from the Oakland Athletics.

Here is what I have written previously about Cashner, when we looked at him here:

He signed a one-year $10 million deal for Texas last winter and it paid off for the Rangers. After pitching to ERAs of 4.34 in 2015 and 5.25 in 2016, he went 11-11 with an ERA of 3.40 over 166 2/3 innings for Texas. That ranked as the ninth-best ERA in the American League, and he ranked second in homers/nine innings (0.8), seventh in pitches per inning (15.8) and seventh in groundball percentage (49 percent).

Cashner dealt with right biceps tendinitis early in the year, but it didn’t bother him as the season went on. His home ERA of 2.72 was fifth in the AL and his ERA of 3.02 after July 1 ranked seventh. Showing a four-seam fastball at 94 mph, he had 18 quality starts and Texas went 14-14 when he was on the mound.

But Cashner is not an innings eater and has made more than 30 starts just one time in his career. In the first five innings of his 2017 starts, his ERA was 2.58. After that, it was 7.04. He led the major leagues, allowing a .170 batting average when pitching with runners in scoring position.

There is a lot to like about how Cashner threw last season, including the low homer rate and high groundball rate. Plus he was very pitch efficient, which would be a revelation for an O’s starter based on recent seasons.

But there are also concerns about a strikeout rate that dropped from 8.0 in 2015 and 7.6 per every nine innings to 2016 to a career-low 4.6 last season. Also about the falloff in performance after the fifth inning. Also about the .170 average against with runners in scoring position. There may be regression there. And there I used that word - gulp! Not sustainable. Might as well work them both in here when I can.

Wright-Exits-Mound-White-Sidebar.jpgOn the other hand, the Orioles need someone to pitch, right? Cashner could come at a reasonable price. If he pitches as he did in 2017 he would be a nice pickup. If he pitches as he did in 2015 and/or 2016, he would be less so.

Meanwhile the slow free agent market remains remarkably slow. When will it heat up? Will it heat up? Does any of this benefit the Orioles, and will some players fall to them as players and agents get more desperate to get deals?

All good questions and all to be answered over the next few weeks. Two of many factors that may be continuing to hold up the market include the Scott Boras factor. He represents some top free agents in players like Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez. Another factor is that some big spenders are not spending big right now and may not as they try to get under the luxury tax threshold to benefit them for future free agent classes - like the one that next year that could include Manny Machado and Bryce Harper.

As of today, the biggest spender is Colorado at a total of $114.5 million, followed by Philadelphia at $94.250 million. The Boston Red Sox have spent $13 million, the New York Yankees $10 million and the Los Angeles Dodgers $2 million. A combined $25 million for those three. That figures to change with Boston’s pursuit of Martinez or another big bat.

The Orioles are one of six teams that have spent zero free agent dollars so far. That list also includes Toronto, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Miami and Atlanta.

At last check, the Orioles were at a projected $115 million for next year for 11 players. That counts four with guaranteed dollars for 2018 in Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo and Darren O’Day. And it includes the projected salaries for seven going through the arbitration process, a list that includes Machado, Zach Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach Tim Beckham and Caleb Joseph.

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