Move over Aroldis, the National League might have a new hardest thrower.
As Dan Brooks pointed out, PitchFX data had Padres reliever Andrew Cashner averaging 102.2 mph with his fastball on Sunday. He threw 10 pitches in his scoreless innings out of the pen, all of them heaters. According to the data, they ranged between 100.5 and 103.3 mph.
For those unfamiliar with the Cashner saga, the former first-round pick debuted with the Cubs as a reliever in 2010 and then won the fifth spot in the team’s rotation a year ago, only to hurt his shoulder in his season debut. He didn’t return until September, and he was a reliever again then. The Padres acquired him for top prospect Anthony Rizzo in the offseason and immediately announced their intention to leave him in the pen, at least for 2012. He’s expected to work as a setup man in front of closer Huston Street.
According to Baseball Info Solutions data, Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez was the game’s hardest thrower last year, averaging 98.0 mph with his fastball. That barely eclipsed Aroldis Chapman, whose fastball came in at 97.9. Chapman, though, did have more fastballs register at 100+ mph, topping Rodriguez 158-127. Cashner may well beat out both this year if he can stay healthy. Chapman may hit triple-digits once in a while as a starter, but it won’t happen as often as it did out of the pen.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.