Say this for Dave Dombrowski: he’s decisive.
The trade deadline is not until July 31 but Dombrowski obtained righthander Andrew Cashner from the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday afternoon, the announcement coming less than two hours before the Red Sox faced the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Sox, who had been working on the deal for a week, traded two 17-year-old players from their Dominican Summer League program — infielder Noelberth Romero and outfielder Elio Prado — for Cashner, a tall 32-year-old who is having one of the best seasons of his career.
At first glance, it’s a good deal. The Sox obtained a veteran starter who was having success in the American League East without adding significantly to their payroll or cutting very deeply into their prospect inventory.
It’s an acceptable risk to see if Cashner can build on a season that has seen him go 9-3 with a 3.83 earned average over 17 starts for the team with the worst record in baseball.
“It’s definitely exciting. I think that will more kick in once you get there,” Cashner told reporters in Baltimore.
By making this trade now, Cashner will start Tuesday at Fenway Park against Toronto and potentially three more times before the deadline including next Sunday at Camden Yards against the Orioles.
Andrew Cashner on trade
The timing is important with the Sox in a position of having to make up ground in the chase for a playoff spot. Their 11-2 loss on Saturday left them nine games behind in the division.
The alternative for the Sox at this point for the fifth spot in the rotation was Hector Velazquez, who is 1-3 with a 6.95 ERA in eight starts and he has averaged only 2⅔ innings in those games.
Dombrowski could have waited to see if a better deal was out there. But the Sox would have been throwing sandbags at that fifth spot. So he beat the Phillies, among others, to get Cashner.
“We just felt this made sense for us to plug him right into the rotation starting on Tuesday,” Dombrowski said. “We have 70 games to play basically. This gives us a chance to move forward right away.”
The clubhouse should get a little jolt from this move, too. The message is clear the Sox aren’t satisfied with what they have.
“We’re trying to win. We have a chance to win,” Dombrowski said.
Cashner, the Sox hope, will serve the dual purpose of improving the rotation and cutting down the number of innings their overworked bullpen has to pitch.
“He’s been throwing the ball well,” Dombrowski said. “He’s been a guy that’s been in [the] big leagues for a long time. He’s throwing the ball as well as he ever has . . . Definitely gives us an improvement in that fifth spot, which we’ve scuffled for such a long time this season.”
Cashner has pitched six or more innings 10 times. The upgrade is obvious when you consider the various spot starters the Sox have used this season are 2-7 with a 6.79 ERA in 16 starts and have pitched only 51⅔ innings.
Financially, the deal was easy for the Sox to do. Cashner has roughly $3.36 million remaining on his contract for this season. The Orioles included cash to pay half of that.
Baltimore also will pay off the $1.5 million remaining on his signing bonus that is due on Jan. 15.
Cashner needs 90⅔ more innings to reach 230 innings over the last two seasons. That would guarantee his $10 million option for 2020.
Cashner could make 11-13 starts for the Sox, so it’s unlikely he gets to that mark.
Cashner was 4-15 with a 5.29 ERA last season. But Baltimore’s new, analytically oriented regime convinced him to scrap his sinker and use a four-seam fastball high in the strike zone with a changeup and slider in the lower quadrants.
He is averaging a modest 6.2 strikeouts per nine innings but has allowed only 11 home runs and trimmed his walks.
“They made some adjustments with him as far as [pitch] usage and we’ll keep doing the same thing,” manager Alex Cora said. “I talked to him and he’s anxious to get here. This is what we’ve been looking for.”
Now what about the bullpen?
Dombrowski was quick to remind reporters the Red Sox will be using Nate Eovaldi in relief.
“For some reason people seem to, like, not grasp onto that. He’s a big addition for us,” he said.
Theoretically, sure. Eovaldi is a starter with primo stuff that should translate well to the bullpen. But he has not appeared in a game in three months because of elbow surgery and has only four games of relief experience since 2012.
It’s not a lock Eovaldi can stay healthy or be a successful reliever. He is scheduled to face hitters on Monday afternoon and could appear in a minor league game on Wednesday or Thursday before returning to the major league roster.
Can Eovaldi be sharp on that timetable? Perhaps. But the Sox should be more proactive than hoping a starter can come off the injured list and take on a new role in the heat of the pennant race.
The Sox should improve more than one spot in the bullpen. They have 18 days to keep looking.