Andrew Cashner joins the rotation

The Cubs announced on Saturday that Andrew Cashner would be the team's 5th starter and that Marcos Mateo had claimed the final bullpen spot.  This leaves Carlos Silva off the roster and the Cubs will try to trade him.  That's not going to happen so the Cubs will eat about $5.6 million assuming some team picks him up and pays him the league minimum.

It's nice to see the Cubs make the right decision here.  This was one of those unique situations where there was only a bad decision.  Keeping Silva as the 5th starter and making it even less likely that Cashner would ever be that productive for this team would have been a terrible decision.  Cashner will have to have his innings total watched this season, but that should be relatively easy to do with him being the 5th starter.

While it's the right decision, which is certainly nice to see from this organization, it was also a decision that didn't require much thought.  Maybe the Cubs didn't put as much thought into it as they led us to believe.  That's entirely possible.  There's nothing wrong with making Cashner feel he has to earn that spot and if he's terrible in spring training, well, maybe you look more at Casey Coleman or even Braden Looper as the team's 5th starter.

Cashner isn't a star and it's not likely he'll ever be one.  He definitely has the potential be a number 2 starter or maybe even a number 1, but he's probably more of a number 2 or 3 once he gets familiar with pitching at the big league level.  If he does turn into that, that's excellent production for a player making league minimum.  He has his work cut out for him though.

He struggled after getting called up and moving to the bullpen last season.  He'd spent the previous two years trying to get stretched out after being a college closer for 2 seasons.  He was a starter early in his college career, but he settled into the closer role quite nicely for TCU.  He always had the potential to start and the Cubs would have been foolish to draft him in the 1st round and not try him as a starter.  It was rather odd when they moved him to the bullpen for a few appearances in the minor leagues.  He'd just finally gotten stretched out and was getting deeper into games than he had the previous 2 seasons.  Once you build the strength up like that you'd like to work on building up the durability so that he can regularly work deep into a game.  That didn't happen and that's what the Cubs will be doing in 2011.  Or at least that's what they'll be doing if they Cashner's best interests at heart.

Each of the last 3 years on Another Cubs Blog, we have come up with playing time projections by having the readers enter in the number of innings pitched or plate appearances they expect out of the player.  The projection systems themselves are limited when it comes to playing time.  They aren't aware of injuries.  They aren't aware of what role the team is going to use the player.  And so on. 

We projected 88 innings as a starter for Cashner and 44 innings as a reliever.  We weren't yet sure which role he'd have to begin the season, but know he is now in the rotation it stands to reason that our projected innings pitch total would be slightly higher.  However, considering his age and the face he didn't throw that many innings last season, it's not like the Cubs can expect Cashner to throw 200 innings.  I don't have the time to ask all of you what you think as far as playing time goes so I'm going to use my own updated projection.  I'll now say 135 innings as a starter and 25 innings as a reliever.  So there's not much of an increase overall, but i don't think the Cubs can afford to let him pitch more than 160 to 170 innings in 2011.

The average projection system projected Cashner to have a 4.45 FIP or for those who prefer ERA, 4.33.  I use FIP because it measures the pitcher's value by ignoring the defense.  It's only a component and we'll talk more about that later, but it works especially well for trying to figure how many wins above replacement (WAR) a pitcher is worth. 

The 4.45 FIP and the projected innings makes Cashner worth 1.4 WAR in 2011.  Not bad for 135 innings as a starter, but 4.45 is a little worse than average.  There's also the potential he exceeds that average projection, but an equal chance he'll perform worse.  In my opinion, the best way for him to be a 1.4 WAR projection is to throw more innings and I'm not sure the Cubs should allow that considering his workload a year ago.

It will be fun to watch Cashner in 2011.  Expect some bumps along the road and hopefully he shows improvement throughout the season. 

The Cubs also added Marcos Mateo to their 25-man roster on Saturday.  He'll be the team's final reliever.  He had a good cup of coffee with the Cubs last season and will start out in low leverage situations.  The Cubs have 3 late inning options this season and I wouldn't be surprised to see Mateo settle in as the 4th best reliever.  Not that there's anything to brag about as far as that's concerned, but I think he easily has the potential to be superior to the other arms in the bullpen not named Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

I'll take a closer look at Mateo in a few days.