Many of my readers are too young to remember the most watched episodic event in television history. For all of those readers, I'll be brief. It was a two-and-a-half hour, one-night event sending off a 30-minute sitcom/drama. It was a soul-crushing, incredibly cathartic experience. It was also past due. While Trevor Cahill was not with the Arizona Diamondbacks for an 11-season run like M*A*S*H was for CBS, his time in Arizona nonetheless had fans of the Diamondbacks everywhere coming to the same conclusion. Goodbye, farewell, and amen!
For some, the acquisition of Cahill from the Oakland Athletics for highly touted prospect Jarrod Parker was a mistake from the start - something that should have never been done. For others, the deal made sense on some level. I myself, was not entirely opposed to it so much as I felt that the team would have been better served by going all-in on the original reported deal, which would have included also sending Tyler Skaggs but receiving Gio Gonzalez in addition to Trevor Cahill and Craig Breslow. This ultimate half-measure always felt like it was not enough to move the needle enough to be worth the potential backfire. In some ways everyone was both right and wrong.
When Cahill arrived in 2012, he performed almost exactly as advertised, posting exactly 200.0 innings with an ERA of 3.78 and an ERA+ of 108 on the strength of a 61.2% ground ball rate. Unfortunately, the regression of other player's performances entirely erased Cahill's contribution and the team finished at 81-81 instead of improving on their playoff run of 2011. Meanwhile, the Athletics seemed to enjoy exactly the sort of success that had always been speculated as possible for Jarod Parker and Ryan Cook. Still, this was a move being defined by cost versus risk, with Cahill costing more while Parker and Cook remained players considered high risk. Nonetheless, the cost difference started to bring the doubters out of the woodwork.
In 2013 things started off much the same for Trevor Cahill. His peripherals were nearly the same, but balls were getting hit harder. Eventually, Cahill, who had never been injured before, wound up going to the DL. While his decline had started to show before he was injured by a line drive, the deterioration in performance after the incident was even more evident. Still, Cahill managed to throw 146.2 innings of league average baseball. Meanwhile, Jarrod Parker continued to marginally out-pitch Cahill, and for significantly less. This is where things seemed to turn south for Cahill. While Parker was defying concerns, Cahill was starting to stumble, and the payroll cost was substantial enough that the Diamondbacks were operating at a disadvantage.
2013 saw Cahill start strong, but show numerous signs of trending in the wrong direction. For the second consecutive season, the team finished at 81-81. This time, however; Cahill's struggles were a big part of why the team did not finish a few games stronger, possibly contending for the Wild Card. Something wasn't right with the math, and the fans knew it. I was among the many calling for Cahill to be traded that year, or at least in that offseason. Yes, he had dropped in value somewhat, but he was trending the wrong way and on the verge of getting very expensive indeed. Alas, it was not to be. Kevin Towers decided to double down on his philosophy and elected to retain Trevor Cahill for 2014.
2014 was a terrible year for the Diamondbacks. It was a nightmare for Cahill as well. When a team loses 98 games, it isn't fair to say that, as Trevor Cahill went, so did the Diamondbacks. Cahill started the season with a shaky outing in Australia, and followed that up with two more shaky outings sandwiching one very serviceable outing in April before being yanked out of the rotation by Kirk Gibson. In hindsight, it is fair to ask now if the leash might have been a bit short. Over the next eight weeks, the Diamondbacks were an up and down team, just as Cahill was an up and down presence in the bullpen. Then, in the first week of June, Cahill was sent on optional assignment to the minors. While Cahill worked on regaining his mojo in the minors, the Diamondbacks worked on finding 8 viable position players, having struggled to put up anything more than a historically bad performance in left field.
By the time the Diamondbacks brought Cahill back in mid-July, the team was so far out of contention that it seemed the team was admitting defeat by sticking a shaky Cahill back into the rotation. Many hoped it was simply to showcase him enough to move him at the trade deadline. July 31st came and went, and Cahill was still a Diamondback, with a $12MM payday on the horizon for next season. For the next six weeks Cahill was an up and down pitcher doing his best to be marginally better than a .500 pitcher, much like the Diamondbacks were as a team. By the time September rolled around, the wheels fell off for Cahill, as it did for the Diamondbacks, who finished the season with an abysmal 7-19 record in September.
The Diamondbacks lost plenty of games all on their own, with or without Cahill's contributions. But this is baseball and fandom. By the end of the season, Cahill had become the poster child for the team's woes. When he was average, the team was average. When he was horrible, the team was horrible. When the team needed some financial flexibility, Cahill's contract stared them in the face. While I can't confirm this, I'm fairly certain that anytime Trevor Cahill walked across a concourse, people started crossing themselves and taking a different path. If soda machines backed up, concession workers began to look for Cahills in the machinery instead of gremlins.
Though he was hardly blameless, Cahill became the outlet for the vast majority of fan ire with the Diamondbacks' organization. Through enough mental gymnastics, almost anything and everything wrong with the team could in some way be tied to Cahill. This is why, when Dave Stewart pulled the trigger on the deal that cleared Cahill from the roster and sent him to Atlanta there was much rejoicing. It didn't matter that the timing was suspect. It didn't matter that Cahill looked to be at least somewhat improved. It didn't matter that the team was eating salary. It didn't matter that the return player was a marginal talent at best. Trevor Cahill was gone. The fact that the team sacrificed its Competitive Balance Draft B pick to make the deal happen raised some eyebrows, but even that was a mitigated irritation when Dave Stewart astutely pointed out how terrible this draft class was and that a pick in the 70s this season was unlikely to have much of any value.
What might be most telling in all of this is, it didn't even matter that Cahill being traded to Atlanta cleared room for Archie Bradley to join the rotation as an Opening Day member of the 25-man roster. What mattered most, is that Trevor Cahill was gone.
Some still question the timing of the trade, feeling the Diamondbacks could likely have done somewhat better if they had been patient. Really though, could a man so intimately linked with the concept of team failure and with fan hatred, a player that was driving fans away from games, do anything to change that perception? Would even slightly above average performance by Cahill have made any discernible difference, or rather, difference enough to offset the malice he brought with him?
Moving Cahill accomplished three things. The team saved some money in a season where it was still trying to decrease payroll. It parted ways with a player that had become a cancer for the fan base. Lastly, it made room for Archie Bradley, who merely b being inserted into the rotation, helped wipe away all traces of Cahill thoughts, focusing the fans and the team on the possible bright successes in the near future, and not on those dark days associated with Trevor Cahill.
Like M*A*S*H, Cahill's time in Arizona can be broken into two halves. The first half started outstanding and trended towards merely good. The second half, well that's another story. Cahill is still relatively young. He clearly has quality stuff as a pitcher rattling around in there somewhere. I hope he does well in Atlanta. It would be great if he could bring some stability to the organization that is currently something of a mess. It would be good for him. Maybe then the name Trevor Cahill could do something other than make baseball fans shudder in terror. It would never have mattered what he did in the desert, he was always going to be the villain. Now Cahill gets a fresh start. So do the Diamondbacks and their fans.