Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Off-Season Acquisition: Andrew Cashner

With FriarFest behind us and pitchers/catchers reported, let's take a look at the Padres off-season acquisitions, working backwards.  Today, Andrew Cashner.

Starter?  Reliever?  Time will tell
Warning:  this post may end up more about Jed Hoyer than Cashner.

On January 6th the Padres sent Anthony Rizzo and RHP Zach Cates to Chicago for RHP Andrew Cashner and  OF Kyung-Min Na.

Cashner is a former first-round draft pick of the Cubs (19th overall in 2008), so he has talent.  However, he lost the 2011 season after straining the rotator cuff in his throwing arm in April of last year.  He apparently successfully rehabilitated it with rest and physical therapy, as he threw 10 2/3 innings in September.  Cashner hurt his shoulder during a start, which explains why the Padres think he'll eventually be a starter.  It is his only major-league start to date.

Cashner has value but at this point in his career it is uncertain if that will be as a starter or reliever.  He's also a big risk for the Padres, in that the club acquired a recently-injured pitcher.  Yes he passed his physical, but that is no guarantee he won't hurt that arm during spring training.  Heck Adam Wainwright passed his physical prior to 2011 spring training and then missed the entire year to Tommy John surgery.

So much for the Anthony Rizzo Era.
To get Cashner the Padres gave up Anthony Rizzo.  Rizzo, evaluated as the third best prospect in the Boston Red Sox organization (and their best power prospect) prior to the 2010 season, came to San Diego in the Adrian Gonzalez trade.  Fairly or unfairly, he was seen as the replacement for Gonzalez, and was expected to produce once brought up to the major league level.  That he destroyed AAA pitching at Tucson to the tune of a .331/.404/.652 line only added to the hype and expectation.  However, once in the majors he was exposed as a left-handed hitter with a long swing who couldn't handle fastballs under his hands.  He might eventually be able to fix that - make his swing more compact and learn to turn on an inside fastball.

But that was not going to help him in Petco.  The Padres (and their fans) soon learned, to their dismay, that Anthony Rizzo was a completely different hitter from Adrian Gonzalez.  Gonzo's strength revolved around his opposite-field power.  He posted a .808 OPS at Petco largely because of his ability to hit the ball out to left.  Rizzo is a dead-pull left-handed power hitter playing in a ballpark that is death to dead-pull left-handed power hitters.

By all accounts, Rizzo is a mentally tough, courageous, great character guy who happens to play baseball.  He's beaten cancer at the ripe old age of 22.  Jed Hoyer knew him from his time with the Red Sox and obviously thinks very highly of him.  But even great character guys are susceptible to the same doubts that plague you and I.  Watching balls he crushed get knocked down in straight-away right, or go into the 411-foot triangle in RC before being caught, can get to the most mentally tough individual.  Ask Ryan Ludwick - and he was hitting to left.

Which brings us to Hoyer.  Jed relieved Kevin Towers following the 2009 season and was obviously charged with rebuilding the Padres minor league system.  He, along with Jason McLeod, did just that; in fact, San Diego's farm was recently ranked as the best in MLB by ESPN's Keith Law.  But I think it's safe to say they made a mistake when they acquired Anthony Rizzo for the Padres.  His power did not play well in downtown San Diego.

Since that blockbuster trade prior to the 2011 season, Hoyer (and McLeod) have moved on to Chicago's North Side, where Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein had also relocated.  They reunited with Rizzo via this trade.  At Wrigley Rizzo's power should play very well, whether the wind is blowing out or not.  The Padres also got a very pleasant surprise in Jesus Guzman's play last season, and traded ace Mat Latos for Yonder Alonso (among others), whom we will talk about in a future post.

Not discussed above, but certainly factoring in the decision to ship Rizzo out of town, are the number of players in the Padre farm system who can play first at the major league level.  We've mentioned Guzman and Alonso, but San Diego also has Kyle Blanks who can play the bag.  First base is one position where the Padres have a lot of options and can't give each guy lots of at-bats.  They're also not going to carry 4 guys on the ML bench who can play first - that's just silly.

So the Padres acquired a recently injured potential starting pitcher for the best prospect in their farm system.  This trade may turn out to be a wash, but today it looks pretty lopsided in favor of the Cubs.

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