If you're looking at the move in a vacuum, you have to try very hard to be negative about the Baltimore Orioles giving
right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner
a two-year, $16 million, incentive-laden deal.
I mean, sure, the analytics folks are pretty confident he's not as good as the 3.40 ERA pitcher he was a season ago with the Texas Rangers. But the deal is so minimal that even a replacement-level performance during two years would seemingly make the contract worthwhile. That's the cost of pitching in this era of baseball.
The thing is … I don't think they're planning on playing baseball in a vacuum this season. And the moment you add context to the Cashner signing is the moment you start to remember that you just don't feel as great about it as you want to.
The Orioles had two viable options for their offseason (and frankly for the last couple of offseasons as well). They could either put together a roster that could viably contend in the American League or they needed to take the steps necessary to prepare for a rebuild in order to create a new window for competition.
Signing Cashner accomplishes none of these things. Signing Cashner alone is not worth failing to rebuild this offseason.
To be certain, the Orioles might not be done. While offseasons don't typically begin four-and-a-half months after a team plays its last game, this offseason has been one of the stranger on record. The team could easily bring back right-hander Chris Tillman in the coming days and an additional left-handed bat (free-agent Jarrod Dyson? Free-agent Carlos Gonzalez? Recently DFA'ed Rays outfielder Corey Dickerson) is also expected.
But if you believe an offseason haul of Cashner, Tillman and Dyson is enough to warrant not rebuilding this offseason, I have some property in Wakanda I'd like to talk to you about.
Is there something the Orioles could still do this offseason that would justify an overhaul not being underway already? I'm not sure. But I can't fathom a trade of shortstop Manny Machado is in the cards (at least not for another couple of months, but at this point I'm betting not at all) and dealing second baseman Jonathan Schoop seems to have not even been much of a consideration at any point.
Before I move on, remember this re: Schoop. The Orioles have attempted to deal Machado this offseason but have been unhappy with what they've been offered in return for a superstar with only one year remaining of team control. This reinforces what we all know: the team should have dealt Machado after the 2016 season. The Orioles are approaching a dangerous spot where things may play out the exact same way with Schoop. I'm all for attempting to extend the All-Star after his best pro season (and we know the money won't be what we expect it to be for Machado), but unless the team believes confidently that a deal will get done, this certainly should have been the offseason to deal him.
But back to what could still be done. There is still quality starting pitching to be had. It seems laughably improbable that the team will reunite with Jake Arrieta. But Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn have always been thought of as the pitchers who could last long enough on the market and have their value drop enough to the point where perhaps they could be in play for the Orioles.
I'll bet against it. But if the Orioles were to somehow still come away with Cobb (whose value is bolstered by having succeeded in the AL East with the Rays), they could perhaps save some face. A rotation of Cobb/Dylan Bundy/Kevin Gausman/Cashner is still loaded with question marks, and the rest of the roster can be described as "imperfect" at best. But the team could at least sell the idea that it has a "chance," even if no right-thinking individual believes that "chance" is to accomplish anything more than perhaps battle for a Wild Card spot should everything go the right way.
If pursuing Cobb is at all an option, it's an option that should be pursued. I mean, we're talking about the difference in "almost no chance whatsoever" or "a slim chance" of competing. It's worth taking the stab at the latter even if it would come at a cost.
Of course, this is an organization that still doesn't have a manager or a general manager beyond this season and an 88-year-old owner. Pursuing Cobb seems impractical because nothing that's happened suggests the team is willing to spend anything more on pitching than the $16 million it already spent on Cashner.
And if indeed that ends up being the entirety of the Orioles' offseason, it's an unquestionable failure. Moreover, not rebuilding could be the type of decision that sets the franchise back for a decade.
Maybe we should just go back to that vacuum.