Last night, when the Padres' trade of Andrew Cashner to the Marlins was still a rumor, I remarked how I'd miss the guy even though he never lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him that continued to grow as Anthony Rizzo, the man San Diego traded to get him, blossomed into a superstar. My fandom of individual players isn't based on their performance -- as my ongoing fixation with Joey Cora and the Alexi Amaristas of the world can attest -- but how they carry themselves and what kind of effort they put forth. Cashner was a hit with me in both regards, always joking and laughing with his teammates in the dugout, as well as lobbying to help the team however he could, be it through his frequent pinch-running or the time he played left field for one batter.
I wasn't initially as enamored with Cashner when the Padres acquired him in that ill-fated trade with the Cubs, which is unusual since most people were high on his potential and still unsure of what Rizzo was capable of, and hadn't begun to judge him negatively based on something out of his control. I was fairly lukewarm on him in 2012, his first season with the Padres, and then did not have nice things to think about him at all the following offseason, when he lacerated a tendon in his right thumb thanks to a knife mishap while hunting. He started 2013 on the disabled list, but came back humble and worked his way out of the bullpen into the rotation. I believe 2014 was when he officially endeared himself to me, thanks to something as minor as telling me his favorite TV show is King of the Hill. That's taste you just can't argue with.
2013 and '14 were also Cashner's best seasons on the hill. He broke out in 2013, his first year as a member of a rotation, and punctuated the season with a one-hit complete-game shutout of the Pirates in his penultimate start. He faced the minimum 27 batters, as the only baserunner he allowed was erased on a double play. Cashner returned the next season just as dominant, throwing another one-hit shutout in his third start. He'd bookend that with yet another dominant complete game shutout, this time a two-hitter in which he drove in the game's only run, in his third-to-last start of 2014. Altogether he put up his best rate numbers nearly across the board that year, although he missed two months and made just 19 starts thanks to a pair of DL trips.
The 2015 season was when Cashner's pitching came back down to earth and then continued to dig. Between his lackluster results over his 31 starts and the emergence of Rizzo as a true offensive threat, many of the fans who weren't already sour on him turned on him completely. I came to appreciate him more, as I saw a genuine human being. Faced with his mother's ongoing illness along with his own nagging injuries and struggles on the hill, he continued to battle and never made excuses. He still contributed in other facets of the game as well, serving as new manager Pat Murphy's go-to pinch-runner. He pinch-ran for previous skipper Bud Black in 2013 and '14, even stealing a pair of bases without getting caught in the former, but never to that extent.
This year brought more of the same, and even those of us who were still in his corner started thinking about how he could benefit from a change of scenery. Sure, he was due to become a free agent at year's end, and it naturally made sense to get something back instead of just letting him walk, but I just wanted him to be able to have a fresh start. It was like having a dog that you loved very much who outgrew your apartment so, as much as it pained you, you had to find someone with a house and a big yard to take him.
While it's going to be weird to see Cashner in the Marlins' black and orange trimmed with approximately 82 other colors, and weirder yet to see him without his mullet and beard thanks to Don Mattingly's archaic policy, I'll be rooting for him to do extremely well every start he makes, unless his time in the rotation comes up on August 26, 27, or 28 when his old club visits Miami. There isn't a lot of starting pitching among this year's free agent class, so he'll likely do fairly well for himself if he simply continues to go out and soak up innings. That's all well and good, but I want to see him turn a corner, pitch like the Cash we saw in years past, and get paaaaaaaaid.