Padres Ready To Tango With Cash(ner)

It’s generally assumed that the Padres will have no trouble putting together a good pitching staff because of the park they play in, and while they have generally given us little reason to think otherwise, last year the Friars didn’t get such great relief work. Enter Andrew Cashner, who was traded to San Diego this afternoon along with prospect Kyung-Min Na for prospects Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates.

In a vacuum, this doesn’t look like the greatest trade for the Padres. Anyone who has ever played fantasy baseball knows that you trade a reliever for a first baseman every day of the week and twice on Sunday’s. But trades don’t happen in a vacuum. With the deal, the Padres make their roster fit better in three ways, the first of which was with regards to their bullpen.

From 2009-2010, the Padres bullpen racked up 10.5 WAR, good for fifth-best in the game. As a unit, their 3.31 ERA and 3.43 FIP were second-best in the game and their 3.58 xFIP was the best. But last year the unit slumped, to 18th in xFIP (3.97) and 24th in WAR (1.3). What’s more, the three most valuable members of last year’s pen — Mike Adams, Cory Luebke and Heath Bell — have departed (Luebke still remains on the team, but is now a starter). So while Cashner may eventually move to the rotation, for now he will help stabilize the bullpen.

Cashner has the chance to be a stud. As Bradley Woodrum noted last March, Cashner had a pretty excellent two years in the Minors in 2009 and 2010, and he has his bright spots in his first taste of big-league action in ’10 as well. After one start last season, he promptly headed to the disabled list without passing Go or collecting $200, and missed most of the season with a rotator cuff injury. Happily, he didn’t need surgery and was able to pitch for the Cubs down the stretch, as well as in the Arizona Fall League. When he’s right, Cashner can hit 100, and he should slot in as one of San Diego’s better relievers. He may get a chance to reclaim his status as a starter, but that opportunity will not come imminently.

While Cashner would have more value in the long run in the rotation, he will provide short-term value in the ‘pen in another way. Since the Padres nominally already have five starters in Luebke, Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richard, Dustin Moseley and Edinson Volquez, there may have been a temptation to break in one of their young guns — Casey Kelly, Robbie Erlin or Joe Wieland — in the bullpen to start the season. With Cashner now in the fold, the Padres can comfortably allow the troika to hone their skills in the Minors and out of the spotlight until it is deemed that they are ready. Perhaps the Friars were already going to do that, but adding Cashner (and Volquez before him) eliminates one more hole the troika could have potentially filled.

The third and final way the Padres made the roster fit better, of course, was at first base. With their recent acquisition of Yonder Alonso, the Padres had three first basemen — Alonso, Rizzo and Jesus Guzman. The team can now work out a platoon between Alonso and Guzman, which should fit nice and neat. Alonso hit .313 against lefties in the Minors last season, but has thus far achieved little success in the Majors against them, and he wasn’t exactly a beast against them before last season. On the other hand, Guzman’s 151 wRC+ versus lefties tied for 36th best in the game last season with Ben Zobrist, Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones (min. 100 PA). Granted, it’s only 101 plate appearances, but Guzman does have a history of hitting lefties well. The two could end up forming a pretty nice platoon.

Cashner (as well as Na, who hasn’t hit much, but is fast and got a taste of Double-A at age 19, both of which qualify as good things) is still a bit of a mystery. He lights up radar guns, and has flashed big-strikeout potential, but he has just 65 innings of Major League ball under his belt, and he will be 25 this season. If he can maintain the form he flashed in 2010 and ever, ever so briefly last September, the Padres will have added a nice chip to the back of their bullpen while better aligning their roster for the 2012 season, all while enabling their young guns to get more seasoning on the farm. Add it all up and you have an exchange that looks more worthwhile than the headline “Padres trade first baseman for relief pitcher” would lead you to believe.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

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