I didn't have much time to sit down and semi-thoughtfully analyze Andrew Cashner's upcoming 2011 season, so forgive me for giving this post the Thomas Hobbes treatment (Get it? Nasty, brutish, and short. Yes, that was a philosophy joke. I'm sorry).
For a more thoughtful digestion, might I suggest Paul Sullivan's piece on Cashner's increasing comparisons to Kerry Wood. Otherwise, stay here as I compare Cashner to another current Cubs pitcher: Sean Marshall.
At face value, Cashner and Marshall are completely different pitchers in almost every possible way. The hard-throwing, right-handed Cashner (age 24) has a potential yet to be reached (we hope) while the precise, left-handed Marshall (age 28) has probably reached the height of his talent.
Still, I find Cashner to be in a similar situation now as Marshall was a few seasons ago. If I remember correctly, Marshall was once a man with a roster spot but without a position. Should he be a starter in the back end of the rotation, where he put up decent but not great numbers, or should he be assigned to the bullpen, where he was fairly inexperienced and an unknown commodity?
Ultimately the need for a left-handed reliever trumped Marshall's services as a starter, and I think we can all agree that was the right decision. Now the Cubs find themselves asking the same question about Cashner.
We have Cashner labeled as a "Should make the team" player, but I can't envision an Opening Day roster without him. That being said, what should be his role? As a minor league starter, Cashner put up some impressive numbers, but he also had his moments of major league success as a reliever. Like Marshall, the decision might come down to need rather than talent, or in Cashner's case, potential talent.
I could see Cashner opening the season as the fourth or fifth starter for the Cubs, and to be honest, I'm rooting for that. Then again, if the Cubs have issues getting the ball to Carlos Marmol, Cashner's presence in the bullpen might become a necessity, and I would completely understand.
Of course there is another side to this issue that deserves to be mentioned. Since the 2011 Cubs probably won't be going anywhere, shouldn't they use this season to give Cashner the major league starting experience he needs? Shouldn't they let the kid make his mistakes and learn from them now rather than when this team has a realistic chance to contend? Shouldn't the Cubs find out what they have in Cashner?
As someone who doesn't have much hope for the upcoming season, I can't really argue against this point, especially since we all know that Cashner will be a full-time starter someday. Probably. Maybe. Hopefully.
So where do you think Cashner belongs? Should he be a starter or does the bullpen need him? I eagerly await AJ and Eddie to comment.