Landing Alex Cobb fills the Orioles' biggest void, but please don't call it a bargain signing - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

Landing Alex Cobb fills the Orioles’ biggest void, but please don’t call it a bargain signing

Photo credit: Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports

Here are my thoughts on the Orioles’ signing – pending a completed physical Wednesday – of 30-year-old right-hander Alex Cobb for four years and $57 million.

The Orioles needed another quality starter to have a prayer of competing for a postseason spot in 2018 and Cobb was one of the best available.

The club and its ownership reached well beyond its comfort zone to sign Cobb as a cornerstone of the rotation while the window of competitiveness appeared to be shutting

And all of that should be applauded.

But let’s not act as if this move was a bargain, a typical Dan Duquette, “catch-em-sleeping” transaction.

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In fact, it may prove to be a serious overpay.

Cobb, who’s not quite three years removed from Tommy John surgery and has never thrown more than the 179 1/3 big league innings he logged last season, landed a tremendous deal given how late it was in spring training.

It’s March 21, the Orioles’ regular season begins in eight days, and Cobb was unemployed. And somehow his agent landed a deal with the thrifty, four-year-contract-adverse Orioles that exceeded predictions.

Consider that mlbtraderumors.com predicted in November that Cobb would get four years and $48 million, and that last week Lance Lynn, who was considered in roughly the same free-agent stratosphere as Cobb, agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract with the Minnesota Twins, and this move feels like anything but a bargain.

Then again, who cares if this is considered good market value? Not really my money or yours (technically, anyway).

And we won’t know whether the expense was worth it for several years, anyhow.

So, there’s two things to concentrate on here:

One, you can never say never in this business, especially when it comes to the Orioles

And two, this move makes them better, and suddenly an offseason of frustration ends up solidly.

To the first point: I was told by several people in the organization that the club would not offer four years for a free agent pitcher this offseason – not after the debacle that was the four-year, $50 million contract given to Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014.

Club owner Peter Angelos was convinced to go beyond his comfort zone with Jimenez, and history supported Angelos’ philosophy that those lengths for starting pitchers were risky propositions.

So, I didn’t think the Orioles would do that again. And neither did several members of the front office. I was also told the Orioles really didn’t show much energy in trying to woo Cobb, that well into February the Orioles were not seriously pursuing Cobb because his demands exceeded their liking.

But I’ve heard that Angelos’ sons, John and Lou, were an integral part in getting this deal done late, that there was a hard push recently.

And that part is not surprising, because ownership has often operated on a case-by-case, in-the-moment basis. Sometimes money is allocated for one player but not another; it’s sort of a floating budget based on various factors, including proper timing. We saw it with Chris Davis and we’re seeing it here (wrapped in a much smaller bow, of course). I was told repeatedly in 2014 that the Orioles wouldn’t sign Nelson Cruz because his demands wouldn’t drop far enough for the Orioles to grab him. And then they did.

In a vacuum, $57 million doesn’t seem to be outrageous for a guy who is 48-35 with a 3.50 career ERA in 115 games and has pitched his entire career for the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East – and done well in the East (3.08 ERA in 48 starts versus the division).

Sure, the Orioles forfeited a draft pick to sign Cobb, but it is a third-rounder, roughly 52nd overall or so. A solid pick, but not a first-rounder.

And enough can’t be said about what this could and should do for the rotation.

Suddenly, Chris Tillman is a fifth starter. Frankly, all four of the Orioles’ current starters could potentially move back a spot for Cobb when it’s all said and done. (Although Cobb will be starting the season in the minors until he gets stretched out, sources said.)

Now, Miguel Castro can safely go to Triple-A and work on being a starter if that’s what the Orioles want. And Mike Wright Jr., and Nestor Cortes Jr., can battle for a long relief role (or both make the 25-man roster in that capacity).

Assuming the Orioles still want to keep Wright, who is out of minor league options, and Cortes and Pedro Araujo, two Rule 5 picks, then they’ll have to sacrifice taking a lefty power arm like Joely Rodriguez back to Baltimore. That’s probably the roster casualty here.

But one simple signing of Cobb automatically makes the rotation better and the organization deeper. That’s why you overpay – or pay handsomely, anyway – to convince a starting pitcher to come to Baltimore and throw in the summers at Camden Yards. Free crabcakes, alone, won’t do it.

Now, if Cobb blows out his arm or can’t pitch in Camden Yards (4.62 ERA in 37 innings) effectively, then everyone will talk about how the Orioles bid against themselves again. We heard that refrain once Jimenez struggled and when Davis struggled and when Mark Trumbo couldn’t recreate his 2016 season.

I can’t wait to hear the “no wonder no one wanted this guy” comments when Cobb has his first clunker as an Oriole.

Hindsight is fun.

Living in the now, though, what can be said about this move is that it fits, it was gutsy and it provides some hope. They didn’t sign Clayton Kershaw, but the rotation improved. That’s key.

Whatever you do, though, please don’t call this a bargain signing. The Orioles paid for this one, maybe overpaid for it.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. jtab

    March 21, 2018 at 7:12 am

    Can’t decide if this is a good omen for next year or not in terms of trying to re-sign Jones and (maybe) Manny/pursuing legit replacements in the open market and eschewing an actual reboot.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:44 am

      I don’t ever see a true reboot. Never been this organization’s way. So in that aspect, not surprised.

  2. speedbump210

    March 21, 2018 at 7:17 am

    I’m curious still about the amount of money deferred will be and the present day value of the contract. I imagine it being closer money-wise to the Ubaldo deal when all is said and done, possibly even under that. Oh well. We shall see.

    The club still needs alot to go their way this year, but the rotation certainly looks more respectable than it did this time yesterday.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:44 am

      Agreed with your last paragraph. The deferrals I’m sure will make it more now friendly.

  3. karks

    March 21, 2018 at 7:23 am

    I do applaud the O’s for going out and making the team better. And I will point out that Cobb, save for his injury/surgery, has not been an up-and-down mess over his career like Ubaldo.

    The years this team has made the playoffs have been about an offense that scores in bunches, a great bullpen and a solid rotation. The starters don’t need to be perfect for this team to get back to a winning season. If they can be solid and fairly consistent, that gives us a chance.

    You don’t really know how everything will work out. But if Cobb pitches anywhere near his 2017 level, this team is better for it.

  4. Eldersburg Enigma

    March 21, 2018 at 7:33 am

    This move makes the lack of pursuit of John Jay all the more puzzling.

    • LenSakata

      March 21, 2018 at 7:44 am

      What about not singing Lynn? Even more puzzling.

      • bigdaddydk

        March 21, 2018 at 8:17 am

        That one could have been more on Lynn than on the front office. If he wasn’t pleased with a multi-year offer and thought he’d do better in a second shot at free agency next year, going to Minnesota and pitching in a friendlier ballpark might have been just the ticket for him. Of course, it sounds like he signed while we were twiddling our thumbs, but maybe not. Could have just been that we couldn’t reach an acceptable deal with him verbally and he took the 1-year deal. I wish we could have gotten both of them, but I didn’t think that would be too likely. In either case, I’ll take Cobb because he’s pitched in our division and has success against our key opponents.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:46 am

      Pitchers have to choose to come to Baltimore/Camden Yards. Good ones don’t choose it on a one-year deal.

  5. Boog Robinson Robinson

    March 21, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Dan … Overpay you say? You’re harshing my buzz this morning!!

    Despite a fresh blanket of snow on the ground, it’s baseball season baby, and baseball’s gods have smiled upon Charm City. The AL East is ours again and it’s world series or bust in 2018. After the O’s sweep the Dodgers in the Fall Classic, Manny will pay Peter just for the right to stay in town and a new dynasty will be born. All is right right in the world.

    Go O’s!!!!

    PS … With this latest development, I’d like to up last week’s prediction of 92 Oriole victories to 102!

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:46 am

      What’s in that coffee? Ain’t coffee.

  6. Steve Cockey

    March 21, 2018 at 8:08 am

    I applaud the Orioles and their ownership for adding Cobb (physical-permitting, of course). It made zero sense to hold Machado and yet go with Tillman and a bunch of waiver wire/Rule 5/out of options-types for 42% of the pitching staff (2 starters and 3 bullpen slots). Adding Cobb helps rectify that and makes a stronger case that the team is truly trying to compete this year, a sentiment that was difficult to believe up until now.

    Having said all of that, the disparity between Lynn’s deal and Cobb’s is pretty concerning. As Dan alluded to, I’ve often wondered what the likes of Davis and Trumbo would’ve gotten had the Orioles not stepped up with their offers. In the same offseason, Chris Carter gets 1/$3.5M and Trumbo gets 3/$37.5M? This year, Lynn gets 1/$12 and the Orioles give Cobb 4/$57? We’re not even talking the same ballpark in either case, and we’re not talking about just pitchers either.

    I think it’s fair to questioning the team’s negotiating prowess, as they seem to be establishing a history of bidding against themselves. And in my mind, these examples are all a product of the crazy way the Orioles continue to operate, with ownership — either directly or indirectly — driving where and when and how the dollars are spent, instead of the baseball people.

    Still, this undoubtedly makes the Orioles better on paper, which is always the goal. And it makes the season a heck of a lot more interesting, in my mind anyway. As always, Opening Day can’t come soon enough.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:52 am

      Ultimately the bottom line is it makes them better. And that’s really what everyone wants.

  7. bigdaddydk

    March 21, 2018 at 8:22 am

    This has greater potential to pan out for us than did the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. Ubaldo was so up and down, and had had basically the one good season prior to coming to us to make it look like he was serviceable. Cobb, on the other hand, despite his TJ surgery, has been pretty consistent for his career, and has pitched well in the AL East. I like this signing. I was hoping to land both Cobb and Lynn, but I figured that wasn’t very likely. Getting one was critical to have any chance, and coupling Cobb and Cashner as this year’s haul makes me feel a lot better. When you break it down to brass tacks, last year’s team won 75 games with the worst rotation performance in team history. The bottom three in that rotation are either gone (Hellickson, Miley, and Jimenez) or are healthy (Tillman.) This bodes well for the state of the rotation for the next two years anyway as even if Tillman leaves after this season Harvey will have had another year in the minors to pitch more than the 30 innings at or below A-ball he’s done. He should not be rushed to the majors, and I can see him being ready next year given the opportunity to refine his skills against better hitters.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:56 am

      That is a good point. The rotation is fairly stable for next two years.

  8. Orial

    March 21, 2018 at 8:38 am

    Yes it is a gamble but one they probably had to make. Would he have accepted a 3 year deal? Is it as good a deal as the one for Arietta,Lynn? Who would we, if we had our drothers,have preferred Arietta or Cobb(Lynn is a notch below)? Peter and Sons do deserve credit and us fans a little tip of the hat.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:57 am

      Sure. Don’t disagree with any of that.

  9. deqalt

    March 21, 2018 at 8:45 am

    It’s been an exhausting winter. The Orioles stepped up and are trying to get better. Can’t ask for more. Best rotation Buck has had in Baltimore by a large margin. This also will help keep the Orioles competitive in 2019 when Manny is gone. This gives guys like Sisco,Hays,Mountcastle, and Mullins another year.

    The next priority is extension for Schoop and Jones.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:57 am

      Yeah you have to wonder if making this commitment means anything — positive or negative for those.

  10. Dblack2508

    March 21, 2018 at 8:53 am

    it was certainly no bargain signing, only time will tell if this is Ulbaldo 2.0 .I like the signing, they brought the band together for one last show. They went all in this year. It would not have been my choice , however I applaud their desire to win. Now play ball !

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 9:58 am

      I’m nit buying all in. But more in than not.

  11. DPG0124

    March 21, 2018 at 9:23 am

    This would have been a below market deal in other years and I could see this contract looking pretty reasonable in the future. Also, Cobb’s problem in the past has always been injuries rather than being terrible and if he’s hurt you aren’t forced to keep him in the rotation/roster like Ubaldo was. If he is pitching well 2 years down the line teams are always looking for starting pitching so they could always trade him halfway through the deal.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 11:22 am

      I don’t think it was below market in past years. About right. The same value in March is what surprised me.

  12. Bancells Moustache

    March 21, 2018 at 9:31 am

    This guy. The ink isn’t even dry and Connolly is already tossing the cold water. I love it.

    It may be an overpay, but I don’t know that it’s egregious like the case of a certain Texan who plays a good first base and has an affinity for chaw. Cobb was viewed by most as the superior pitcher to Lynn. Lynn is getting 12 mil to pitch this year, Cobb is getting 14 and some change. Sounds about right if you look at it that way. Also, I am in the minority in that I applaud the O’s for not blowing it all up because, quite frankly, I hate that. I astounds me how many fans think a front-office HAS to subject them to three or four hundred-loss seasons to get to the top. It’s in vogue right now, looking at the praise heaped on Houston and especially the Christ-like adulation for Theo Epstein, but it’s not the only way. And unlike those mega-market teams, I question whether Baltimore can survive another stretch in the wilderness.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 11:22 am

      But he is getting it for four years. From the Orioles. That’s the surprise.

  13. c Soprano

    March 21, 2018 at 9:45 am

    Meh, 5th slot or bust doesn’t do it for me. In a vacuum I’ll take watching Cobb over Tillman/Ubaldo/Wade every day of the week. However this still doesn’t put the O’s in front of LAA or MIN. Minnesota in particular plays the White Sox, Tigers, and Royals nearly 60 times. Can’t see how they aren’t the team flying up to Boston for a play in game.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 11:23 am

      Well, we have to let the games play out now. At least there is a fighting chance

  14. GSISDANNO

    March 21, 2018 at 9:51 am

    Let’s be honest. Pitching is a crapshoot. Giving any pitcher a 4year contract is dicey. MLB history is littered with pitchers who got long term deals and got hurt. The guy’s like Sabathia are few and far between. I will give the Orioles credit for stepping up and making the deal. But let’s get one more just in case.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 11:24 am

      I think they are done. Tho I NEVER thought they’d go four years on Cobb. Ever.

  15. MAGICEJS

    March 21, 2018 at 11:09 am

    I look at this signing also as a defensive move, at least the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t get him . Hoping for some Oriole Magic in 2018 !!!

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 11:24 am

      Why they play the games.

  16. Ezrine Tire Award

    March 21, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    They made a commitment to the season which was my bitch all along. Good on D2. If Tillman wins 15 we can make the playoffs in my estimation.

    • Dan Connolly

      March 21, 2018 at 5:42 pm

      Thought I replied to this. Guess it didn’t send. 15 seems rather optimistic. But he has done it before.

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