The jury is still out on the Anthony Rizzo/Andrew Cashner trade (I intentionally leave out Zach Cates and Kyung-Min Na because I do not think either will contribute at the Major League level). The jury will continue to be out until we see how Cashner performs in San Diego and how Rizzo performs in Chicago. However, we can try to evaluate the true value of Cashner in San Diego.
The team is either trying to temper expectations or truly doesn’t believe Cashner will a starter with the Padres. The team and those who cover the team have given a very slim chance of Cashner making the rotation. Josh Byrnes has gone on record as describing Cashner as an 8th inning set-up man. I’m not sure I believe Cashner will remain a bullpen arm, but let’s try to evaluate the contributions Cashner may bring to San Diego.
I briefly spoke with Paul Sullivan who covers the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune, and he had this to say about Cashner:
"I do know Cashner and feel he will be a star if he stays healthy. You won’t meet many better athletes than Cashner. Trust me on that. As for who wins the trade, not sure."
Sullivan doesn’t say Cashner will be merely productive. He predicts stardom – as long as Cashner remains healthy. Really, his health will be a concern until everyone sees him log some innings throughout the season. For now, we’ll assume Cashner will bounce back from his rotator cuff strain. What can Cashner bring to the table, and will he be worth the departure of Anthony Rizzo.
If Cashner does find a niche in the bullpen, a closer or set-up role would likely be his best fit. With a plus fastball that can hit 100 MPH (before his injury), and a change-up that shaves about 15 MPH off the fastball velocity, Cashner could be a dominant closer. He also has the makings to be a Mike Adams type set-up man. For those who subscribe to the Holds stat, I truly can see Cashner breaking the single-season holds record. Of course, much of this has to do with the Padres ability to score runs and allow Cashner to enter with a lead.
The closer role becomes a little more tricky. Not that it’s a bad problem to have, but the Padres have three prospects who project to be above-average Major League closers. Brad Boxberger, Cory Burns, and Andrew Cashner have all been thought of as possible future closers. Only one can truly be a closer (unless the Padres abandon the traditional thinking and adopt an approach similar to the Rays in which the closer role is adjusted o the actual scenario of the game). Based on what the Padres gave up to get Cashner, I would like to see him get the closer role over Boxberger or Burns, but only if he performs well enough to earn it.
Moving on from the bullpen roles, I still think Cashner has a shot at being a starter. If he can live up to his 2009 Baseball America projections of being a 1 or 2 starter in the league, the Padres will have received much more than they could have hoped for in this trade. Even if Cashner can develop into a solid 4 or 5 starter, the trade still makes sense. Most people feel his chances as a starter are limited because of injuries. However, a non-surgical strained rotator cuff hardly concerns me as much as many other injuries pitchers can experience. Even with more serious injuries, a player is not always worse off when he comes back. Tim Stauffer has maintained his starting role after his injury. In fact, he was the Opening Day starter last season, and may be this year as well.
The trade for Andrew Cashner is an interesting one in the fact that the Padres do not seem convinced of the role they’d like him to play. Hs best value to the team would be in the form of a starting pitcher. However, i that is not an option, a back-inning shutdown bullpen pitcher would clearly help boost the team.
Only time will tell whether Cashner was the right choice in exchange for Anthony Rizzo, but considering how much the Cubs liked him, it seems like the deal has the potential to be huge for San Diego.