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Cubs Free Agent Target: Andrew Cashner

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Could the former Cubs No. 1 pick return to the North Side?

A beardless Andrew Cashner in an almost-empty Marlins Park last September
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Andrew Cashner, selected No. 1 by the Cubs in 2008 (19th overall), was traded to the Padres a bit less than four years later for Anthony Rizzo.

Well. That one worked out pretty well for our side, didn’t it?

Cashner, now 30, is a free agent after having a pretty bad year combined for the Padres and Marlins: 5-11, 5.25 ERA, 1.530 WHIP in 28 appearances (27 starts) covering 132 innings. That was worth -0.7 bWAR, worse than a replacement player.

Read these quotes from Cubs GM Jed Hoyer:

“We’re going to explore every avenue,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, there’s an appeal to guys in the free-agent market that have had great track records. But I think closers come from all over. Generally – when you sort of start looking at where those guys come from – some (have) had some bumps along the road and established themselves later on.”

Before Andrew Miller became an American League Championship Series MVP with the Cleveland Indians, he had been a failed starter with the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins. Within a matter of weeks after the 2010 season, Epstein’s Boston Red Sox traded Dustin Richardson for Miller, non-tendered him and then signed him to a minor-league deal, allowing the 6-foot-7 lefty to finally blossom.

“Andrew Miller’s the perfect example,” Hoyer said. “Trying to be creative in finding bullpen pieces is something that we should always challenge ourselves to do, because the great reliever of next postseason may be a guy no one’s even thought of right now.”

When Cashner was a Cub, I always thought he’d be better in relief, possibly a future closer, than as a starter. He never seemed to have the stamina to start and he kept getting injured. That has been borne out in his starting career: just once has he started 30 or more times in a season and he wasn’t good that year either (2015, 31 starts, 4.34 ERA, 1.440 WHIP, -0.1 bWAR).

Cashner threw six or more innings only 10 times in his 27 starts in 2016. Fangraphs says his fastball still has pretty decent velocity, and that could increase if he had to throw only 65-70 innings a year instead of 180.

Would you sign Cashner and try him as a closer? I might. In any case, this sort of signing fits the bill of exactly the type of thing Hoyer was talking about in the quotes above.

And it would be delicious if Cashner did blossom as a closer and helped the Cubs win again — then with both parts of the Rizzo deal.