The Orioles have been looking for rotation help all winter, and on the first day of spring, with snow falling in Baltimore, they landed one of the more attractive pitching options in the 2017-18 free agent class.
According to industry sources, the Orioles have agreed to a four-year, $57 million deal with right-hander Alex Cobb, who was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017. The contract, which includes salary deferrals, is the largest in club history for a free-agent pitcher.
Nothing has been announced by the team until Cobb, 30, completes his physical Wednesday in Sarasota, Fla. That’s never a slam-dunk process with the Orioles, who are meticulous when it comes to examinations, but no issues are anticipated.
Cobb seemingly had been out of the Orioles’ price range for most of this offseason, to the point where the Orioles did not seriously pursue the right-hander for much of the winter, hoping his demands would change. As Opening Day neared, and other starters fell off the board, Cobb’s initial asking price dropped to a point where the Orioles felt more comfortable.
The four-year pact is surprising because the Orioles’ policy has been to avoid free-agent contracts beyond three years. The only time they altered that philosophy was in 2014, when they signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $50 million deal that will go down as one of the worst in club history. It no longer will be the largest given by the Orioles to a free agent pitcher, however.
A former fourth-round pick of the Rays in 2006, Cobb was one of the best young pitchers in the American League East before undergoing elbow-ligament (Tommy John) surgery in May 2015. He returned to pitch five games with the Rays at the end of 2016 and then pitched all last season, allowing 175 hits and 44 walks while striking out 128 batters in 179 1/3 innings.
When official, Cobb would become the third starting pitcher the Orioles have signed since spring training began. They agreed to a two-year, $16 million deal with right-hander Andrew Cashner and a one-year, $3 million deal to re-sign Chris Tillman.
Tilman is one of three holdovers – along with Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy – from a 2017 rotation that posted the worst ERA in club history.
Cobb will be a major part of the rotation going forward, but he won’t be part of the Opening Day roster. Although he still has a minor league option remaining, he could refuse an assignment to the minors due to his service time. So, the sides have an agreement in place that Cobb will go to the minors for roughly a couple weeks to start this season so he can get stretched out before joining the Orioles. It makes perfect sense.
The Orioles will also have to surrender their third pick (second round) of the 2018 amateur draft because of signing Cobb, who rejected a qualifying offer from the Rays. That figures to be roughly the 52nd pick this June (the Orioles have a compensatory pick after the first round that counts toward which pick is forfeited. If that compensatory pick is traded away — and those can and have been dealt — then the Orioles would forfeit their their round pick — late 80s — for the Cobb signing). The Rays will get a pick in the compensation phase of the first round, approximately the 35th pick. They don’t get any picks originally assigned to the Orioles.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Cobb is 48-30 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 big league games, all starts, in parts of six years. He is 23-19 with a 3.10 ERA in 58 starts at pitcher friendly Tropicana Field in his career and 25-16 with a 3.91 ERA in 57 road games.
He’s pitched well against the Orioles – 6-2 with a 2.70 in 12 overall starts – but is 3-1 with a 4.62 ERA in seven starts at Camden Yards. In 37 innings in Baltimore, Cobb has allowed 44 hits, 13 walks and struck out 30 batters in 37 innings pitched.
Against the AL East in his career, Cobb is 21-13 with a 3.08 ERA in 48 starts versus the Orioles, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays. His career ERA is below 3.50 against each of the division rivals.
The following outlets had pieces of the developing story first: Yahoo Sports, The Athletic, MASNSports, FanRag Sports and 670thescore.