Morning Coffee with Mark Whelan: Padres Losing Rizzo for Cashner Trade


Between the Padres and Cubs, who won the Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo trade? As good as Cashner has been for the Pads, based on the results we have seen so far, the Cubs bested the Padres in the deal. Perhaps long term, Cashner will turn out to be the more special player, but not yet.

Why is Rizzo better than Cashner at this point?

Rizzo has found his power stroke. Power was always Rizzo’s main selling point; it’s why the Padres were willing to trade Adrian Gonzalez for him and others in 2010. Rizzo couldn’t hit the ball out of the park in his 153 AB with San Diego as a 21-year old in 2011, even though he had homered every 22 AB in the minor leagues. But after being traded to the Cubs for Cashner, Rizzo came back in 2012 hitting bombs at the same rate in the majors, with 15 in 337 ABs his first year with Chicago.

This year, he’s tied for the National League lead in long balls with Giancarlo Stanton, with 23 in 356 AB. That’s a homer every 15.5 ABs. Think it’s because of Wrigley Field that he’s launching all those missiles? Guess again. He’s hit more on the road than he has at home in his career.

Rizzo is quickly developing into an elite offensive first baseman. He’s tied for 5th in the league in runs, 15th in RBI, and 6th in walks. His slash line is a very solid.281/.384/.522. And he’s second among NL first baseman in WAR (3.0), behind only Paul Goldschmidt. And he has yet to reach his 25th birthday.

Cashner has not been a failure for the Padres, not by a long shot. He’s become the ace of a very good Padres staff, and has put up an ERA of 2.86 over the last year and a half. Actually, he’s been excellent, and last year had a better year than Rizzo, who hit only .233 in his sophomore season.

Why, then, have the Cubs won the trade?

First, Rizzo has played every day. He’s missed a total of 5 games in 2.5 years since the Cubs recalled him in 2012. Cashner, on the other hand, has already missed nine starts this year, while only pitching in 12. He’s currently in his second stint on the DL this year, first with elbow soreness, now with shoulder issues. His progress during this stretch on the DL was further slowed by a sore neck, which took him off his throwing program for an additional two weeks. At this date, there is still no timetable for his return.

Second, Cashner hasn’t produced results in the same way that Rizzo has. In 37 starts since he joined the rotation last year, Cashner has only won 12 games, including only two this year. He has deserved better than that, and the Padres’ anemic offense has certainly cost him some wins, but the bottom line is that he isn’t picking up many Ws. Two wins ties him for eighth on the Padres staff this year. It’s one less than reliever Dale Thayer.

Third, Cashner is 27, while Rizzo is 24. Given the typical arc of a major league career, Cashner is already in the prime years of his career, while Rizzo hasn’t reached his yet, and won’t for a couple of years. So we’re likely to see Rizzo continue to improve, and while Cashner may also continue to get better, he’s probably closer to his peak than Rizzo. And unfortunately, he’s spending some of that peak time in the trainer’s room instead of on the field.

And while this isn’t a direct reflection on the performances of the two athletes, Rizzo’s bat would be more valuable to the Padres right now than Cashner’s arm. The Padres are loaded with pitching, with Ross, Kennedy, Hahn, Despaigne, Stults, Erlin, Fried, Wisler, Kelly, and the other Ross all either major league caliber starters or within a year or two of being so. While Cashner may be the best of the group, we’ve already seen this year how good the staff is even when he’s not pitching.

If Rizzo had been planted in the cleanup spot this year, it’s hard to imagine that the rest of the bats wouldn’t have produced somewhat better. Allowing everyone else to slide one spot in the batting order, and having another bat that is consistently producing would have removed some of the pressure to be the run producer for hitters like Grandal, Headley, Alonso, and Venable. If that made them even a little looser at the plate, we might have seen a very different offense this year.  We might even be looking at the other side of .500.