Andrew Cashner felt that a trade was coming. He could sense it. He could pick up on clues via the text messages on his phone.
It’s the timing that surprised him.
Rather than make his scheduled start Sunday afternoon against the Rays, Cashner is packing his belongings and joining the Red Sox following today’s deal that sends 17-year-old outfielder Elio Prado and infielder Noelberth Romero to the Orioles.
Prado and Romero have been assigned to the Rookie-level Dominican Sumer League on separate teams. Cashner has been dropped in the middle of a pennant race while sorting through his emotions.
Sad to leave his teammates and friends. Happy to be going to a team in contention and trying to defend its World Series title.
His head was spinning as he processed the news.
“It’s a shocking moment, but I kind of saw it coming just the way our club is trending,” Cashner said while standing outside the clubhouse. “I think it will maybe sink in tonight and once I leave tomorrow, but just kind of say goodbye to all my teammates.
“It’s definitely exciting. I think that will more kick in once you get there. You make a lot of relationships in this game and just saying goodbye to a lot of people is maybe the toughest thing.”
Cashner can only blame himself given how he’s pitched. His ERA is at its lowest point this season at 3.83 and he’s allowed only five earned runs in his last five starts over 32 innings, with four walks and 18 strikeouts. Increased use of his changeup has been just one of the factors.
“I think I’ve pitched great my whole career except for last year, so, I mean, I think teams kind of know what I’m about as far as grinding things out,” said Cashner, who was 4-15 with a 5.29 ERA and 1.582 WHIP in 28 starts after signing his two-year deal.
“I don’t have the best stuff in the league or the worst stuff, but I’m definitely going to grind stuff out. I think the biggest adjustment for me this year is I’ve been pitching up in the zone and my changeup has gotten a lot better. I also think pitch selection. Kind of get away from the sinker and working on some other things. I think it’s been a lot of that kind of stuff.”
Executive vice president Mike Elias said he’s been negotiating with the Red Sox for about a week. Trading Cashner accomplishes multiple goals for the organization, including an injection of international talent, some salary relief and an opening on the 40-man roster.
“Kind of a tough day for us saying goodbye to Cash,” Elias said. “He was terrific for us all year, a linchpin in the rotation and the clubhouse. I think it was a rejuvenation kind of year for him. I think he jelled really well with the coaching staff. They gave him some information that helped him kind of turn his game around, but we’ve made no secret of the fact that we’re eying our broad, long-term strategy, which is getting the best young talent we can from every angle, and there’s a trade deadline coming up.
“We had talks with several teams and Boston was the most serious and most aggressive. We ended up getting two very young players that we like. I think in particular with them being Dominican Summer League players. One of my concerns is that we haven’t been pulling from the international market steadily for the last few years. We’ve started now, but that is a pipeline that is lagging for us. I think trading for that age group is going to help us kind of stave off the balance that we’re going to need with the rest of the league and competitors and equalize it more quickly.”
Elias wasn’t in the mindset that he had to strike quickly, though the timing of the deal might give the impression. Multiple clubs, including the Phillies, held interest in Cashner.
“I just felt like once we got a return that made sense, that was above the line and able to get some young players with upside as opposed to getting players that were older or already on the 40-man roster, something like that, which is a lot of the market right now, especially for rental players,” Elias said.
“Those are the type of offers you get. This is a tough trade market for getting young players. There’s a lot more risk with these types of players, but there’s more upside as well.”
Elias appreciated how Cashner took the news, knowing that the veteran preferred to stay and be viewed as one of the clubhouse leaders. He wasn’t shy about exerting his authority within the clubhouse.
“He was great,” Elias said. “He’s been such a pro this year. I think he was just a little sad to leave. He has liked the coaching staff. He’s been in a leadership position here all year and he’s very comfortable, but those guys are competitors and the idea of going to a wild card race has to be pretty exciting on some level.
“He was exceptionally professional my entire interaction with him this year and this was no different.”
Elias had to weigh the benefits of trading away a starter against the issues it creates in the rotation. Cashner is gone and Dylan Bundy is on the disabled list. Alex Cobb is out for the season following hip surgery and is awaiting a procedure on his knee. Dan Straily is in the minors.
“It’s a huge hole in the rotation,” Elias said. “I think one way of looking at it is it will be more opportunities for young pitchers and fresh arms - wherever we find one - and it’s one more slot where maybe we will stumble into something that we’ll have beyond this year.
“It’s just one of those tough things we’ll have to do. Our guys will figure out a way to step up. It’s going to, especially in the short term, put a little more pressure on the guys that are here to cover innings.”
Prado is batting .303/.400/.418 with five doubles, three home runs and 26 RBIs in 147 plate appearances with the DSL Red Sox after reportedly signing for $85,000. Romero, who received a reported $275,000 bonus, is batting .264/.336/.364 with three doubles, a triple, two home runs and 13 RBIs in 123 plate appearances.
“You know, it’s tough because you only are offering a couple months of control and that limits the possible return and the number of teams that are interested in that kind of thing,” Elias said. “Each market, each player has its own shape, but with Andrew not coming back next year, it made sense for us to strike once we got something that makes sense.
“I hear Prado, in particular, is off to a pretty good start in the Dominican Summer League. Those are complex leagues. The stats can be misleading. A lot can change, but he’s a center fielder with some pop. Runs well. He’s been stealing bases. We’ve had eyes on him and they like what they see. We’ll see what we get. There’s a lot of development ahead for him.
“Romero is an infielder who has the capability to move around to different positions. He has played mostly third base this year, but we thing he’s got a chance to develop as a shortstop and made pretty good contact with pop as well, and I think the Red Sox gave him some money, too. We’ll see what we get.
“Obviously, it’ll take several years to find what we’ve got with these guys, but I do feel like that age group and that pipeline is something we want to bolster and give a jolt to and this helps with that.”
Elias might not be done making trades but nothing is close.
“I don’t know if we’ll make any more deals. I really don’t,” he said.
“I’m not adhering to the framework that they’ve got to be complex-level-age players. If it makes sense and we end up making a trade and a player close to the major leagues comes back. I just don’t know right now. We’ve got nothing else imminent, that’s for sure.”
Cashner will follow the rebuild from afar and hit the free agent market again over the winter after receiving a guaranteed $16 million in his contract with the Orioles. The deal included consecutive salaries of $5 million and $8 million, with the remainder a signing bonus deferred from 2020-2022.
There also was a $10 million vesting option and $5 million available in yearly incentives.
Cashner went 13-18 with a 4.73 ERA and 1.432 WHIP in 45 starts and is headed to his sixth team in 10 seasons.
“I kind of knew something was up, I just didn’t think that it would happen until after my start maybe. But when you start getting texts from certain people, it’s one of those things you kind of expect,” he said.
Cashner likes the direction that the Orioles are headed.
“I don’t know if I’m like behind the scenes on a lot of stuff,” he said, “but I know a lot of the stuff that they’ve brought in I don’t think that I’ve really seen a lot of it just because there’s going to be a long process. But I just think the way that Brandon (Hyde) communicates with his players, I think he’s been great. I think Mike brings a ton of stuff to the table in terms of new stuff they’re going to be trying out. And so does Sig (Mejdal).
“It will definitely be an exciting organization to watch in the next few years. But it’s still the AL East, so you’ve still got to beat the Red Sox and Yankees. So I think it’s one of those things that that’s the ultimate goal is to beat those two teams.”
If you can’t beat the Red Sox, you may as well join them.
Cashner actually is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA and 1.174 WHIP in four starts against them.
“They’ve been a tough team to face, I know that,” he said. “I think it will be really cool. It’s such a rich history of baseball with the whole ...
“David Ortiz has been one of my favorite players growing up. Kind of getting to be around him from a different side. They’re still the champions from last year, so it will be fun to help them get to where they want to go.”
Update: Michel Brosseau hit his second career home run in the second inning, a two-run shot that gave the Rays a 2-0 lead. Both homers have come against John Means.
Update II: Yandy Díaz led off the fourth with a home run.
Update III: Stevie Wilkerson singled with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth to drive in two runs and cut the lead to 3-2.
Update IV: Means allowed a career-high six runs and three homers in six innings. Tommy Pham hit a two-run homer off David Hess in the seventh for an 8-2 lead and Avisaíl García lifted a sacrifice fly later in the inning.
Update V: Hanser Alberto homered off Jake Faria in the bottom of the seventh and the Rays lead 9-3.