Trevor Cahill was relegated to the bullpen yesterday, with Michael Bolsinger set to take his spot in the rotation. His last start was the tipping point in what has been a gradual decline since he first arrived in Arizona. There is no doubt that he has been bad in his four starts, but he’s been the victim of bad luck as well. Over the course of Cahill’s career, batters have a .280 batting average on balls in play. This year, it has been .400. He has also given up an inordinate amount of home runs; his xFIP is only at 5.01 while his ERA is 9.17.
As I reflect on Cahill’s tenure as a starter, I can’t help but see the parallels between his descent from solid starter to bullpen afterthought and Kevin Towers’ tenure as General Manager. When Cahill first arrived on the scene, everything was going well. The D-backs had just come off of a great 2011 season with Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson leading the pitching staff. Cahill provided exactly as expected in his first full season in Arizona. He pitched 200 innings and was worth 2.9 WAR. Similarly, when KT first arrived on the scene, good things started happening. The D-backs won the division, and Towers made some good moves. He traded Kelly Johnson for John McDonald and Aaron Hill. He also swapped Brandon Allen and Jordan Norberto for Brad Ziegler. We thought we knew what we were getting with both, but then both guys started to go awry.
Cahill’s second season with the D-backs was significantly less successful. He suffered an injury, allowing him to only pitch 146.2 innings. Even when he did pitch, he was not nearly as good as he was in 2012. His WAR was 0.9. The middle years of the KT era were similarly confusing. Towers traded Chris Young for what effectively turned out to be Cliff Pennington and Heath Bell. Chris Young was coming off a sub-par season, but he was still presumably worth more than a utility infielder and a reliever coming off of a horrible season. Towers also traded Trevor Bauer and a few relievers for Didi Gregorious and minor leaguers. Here, both men started to lose their identities. The reliable Cahill spent time on the disabled list for the first time, while Towers started making rash, confusing trades.
And finally, the wheels fell off for both men. We’ve already discussed Cahill’s demise, but with Towers, the wheels fell off this summer. Citing a need for power, he traded Tyler Skaggs and Adam Eaton for Mark Trumbo. In two starts this season, Tyler Skaggs has given up a total of four earned runs. There’s a team in Arizona that could use an extra effective starting pitcher. Even without taking Eaton and his hot start into account, selling low on Tyler Skaggs showed impatience from Towers.
How did Trevor Cahill end up on the D-backs in the first place? Well, it all started with an unsuccessful Kevin Towers trade. He traded away Jarrod Parker, Ryan Cook, and Collin Cowgill for Cahill, Craig Breslow, and cash. After half of a season with the D-backs, Breslow was traded to Boston for Scott Podsednik and Matt Albers. Just to give you a rough idea of how the trade has gone, Parker and Cook have combined for a 7.9 WAR during their time in Oakland. Cahill’s WAR is at 3.7. Parker is out this year after getting Tommy John surgery, but Cahill has more earned runs than innings pitched thus far.
The Cahill trade exemplified KT’s fatal flaw. He continuously undervalued young players. What’s next? Well, as Trevor Cahill is moved out of the role he was supposed to fill for the Diamondbacks, expect the parallels with him and Kevin Towers to continue.
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