The bonus, the cherry on top, during the off-season for Andrew Cashner was that he landed a contract with a team in the Lone Star State, where the native Texan has always wanted to pitch.
But the plan all along was to score a one-year deal, which the Texas Rangers gave to him early into free agency.
The $10 million payday, coming off a season with a 5-plus ERA, collected by Cashner looked like he might have been pulling one over on the reigning American League champs.
And maybe he was, but not in that way.
Cashner wanted only a one-year deal in his first salvo into free agency because he wants a better crack at it this off-season. The thought was one good year for a contender could translate into a long-term contract.
It was a gamble, but one worth taking. And it’s one that looks as if it will pay off.
Cashner has the top ERA by a Rangers starter after allowing one run in six innings Wednesday to close a nine-game homestand. He will be back on the mound Tuesday at Citi Field as the Rangers visit the New York Mets for a quick two-game interleague series.
But Cashner isn’t counting the years and dollars on his next contract. He has positioned himself nicely for the off-season, especially with the Rangers likely to have three vacancies in the rotation to fill for 2018.
“I’m just worried about today,” said Cashner, the former TCU star. “You never know when your last pitch is going to be. So for me, it’s just, ‘What can I give today? What can get better at today?’ ”
Cashner’s 3.36 ERA through 18 starts tops Cole Hamels’ 3.59 and would rank eighth in the league if he had enough innings to qualify (he’s a few innings short). Cashner’s 1.35 WHIP is a tad unsightly, but he has been able to limit damage by getting double plays, 16 of them, and by pitching to a 1.04 WHIP beginning in July after catching up on reps missed while limited during spring training.
“He has the ability to control the damage,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Where he’s at now, he seeks out the ground ball and the ability to get the ground ball. It’s a solid average fastball with good sinking life and command of it. The slider still has swing-and-miss to it, but there’s a changeup there now. The changeup-slider combo helps the fastball play up.”
He has worked quickly, made hitters put the ball in play and made pitches when needed. That has been his focus since the off-season, when he started working more with Brian Cain, a sports psychologist who first worked with Cashner during his All-America season at TCU.
Cain’s Peak Performance, in Southlake, helps pitchers visualize the outcomes they desire on the mound.
“I really got back into working with him and holding myself accountable,” Cashner said. “I’ve been throwing the ball well. From an execution standpoint, it’s been good, but I try to not get too high or too low.”
Or to look too far ahead, though he is familiar with the free-agent pitching class. It’s top-heavy, headed by Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Cashner falls into the next tier, and could look awfully shiny to a team in need of starting pitching.
He doesn’t care which league he pitches in, though he admits that he hasn’t missed hitting. The more innings he throws, the better he will position himself.
“For me, it’s the best fit as a person,” Cashner said. “I’m excited. It’s going to be fun to see what’s out there. It’s a great market for starting pitching. My biggest thing is just showing that I’m healthy. Teams that have seen me pitch over the course of my career know what I can do.”
He still has two months to make good on the one-year gamble he took on himself last off-season.
It looks as if it’s going to pay off. It would be nice if the Rangers were the pay window, as pitching in Texas has been a dream despite having to juggle so many friends and family wanting to come see him.
“It’s not in my control. It’s the front office’s control,” Cashner said. “When the off-season gets here, that will be something to think about. Right now, I’m just concerned about making pitches.”
Rangers at Mets
6:10 p.m. Tuesday, FSSW