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.
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.