BOSTON—When the Orioles signed Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57-million contract, the move was critically acclaimed. Some thought that Cobb’s addition could even make the Orioles a contender for the postseason.
Cobb was the best free-agent starter still on the market when the Orioles signed him. At the time, he appeared to solidify a staff already stocked with holdovers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, the return of Chris Tillman and another free agent signee, Andrew Cashner.
His signing came late in spring training, on March 21, and he couldn’t begin the season with the Orioles. Cobb threw simulated games in Bowie and Sarasota before debuting on April 14 at Fenway Park.
Cobb allowed 10 hits that day along with seven earned runs. In his next two starts, he also gave up 10 hits and five earned runs. By the end of April, Cobb had put himself in a deep hole, with an 0-3 record and 13.11 ERA.
For the rest of the season, Cobb’s ERA steadily declined but wins didn’t follow. By the end of July, Cobb was 2-14. After the 13th loss, Cobb was asked about his record, and he didn’t back down.
“I know that there’s a lot of discussions about wins and losses, and how they don’t matter,” Cobb said. “But I worked really hard my whole career to try and have a real nice-looking record because whether you’re a casual fan or real in-depth into the numbers, the first thing you see on the back of your cards is your win-loss.
“I’ve always taken pride in that in my whole career. I think I’ve always had a winning record. It sucks. I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name. It’s sickening. The only thing I can do is try to eat at it as much as I can and get it back to respectable looking numbers.”
By then, Cobb’s numbers had already improved. Eight of Cobb’s 10 starts from July 14-Sept. 4 were quality starts, including a complete game win in Cleveland on Aug. 18.
But a blister on his right middle finger flared up on Sept. 11, and Cobb had to leave after two innings. After resting for 11 days, he was able to throw just four pitches on Sunday.
His season is over with a 5-15 record and a 4.90 ERA, and it’s not one he’s proud of.
“I don’t really want to,” Cobb said when asked to summarize his season.
“It hasn’t been anything that we’ve envisioned before we made the commitment to come here. I don’t think anybody envisioned it turning out his way. You never sign up for something like this. We’re going to see how things go in the offseason and see what kind of team we’ll be working with next year and do our best with what we’ve got and hopefully be able to turn this whole thing, this organization around quickly because this isn’t where anybody wants to be.”
I’m confident that Cobb will be the best pitcher on the Orioles next season. He showed enough in those 10 starts to encourage those who thought the team erred in signing him.
He had a full no-trade clause in the contract’s first year and can veto a trade to 10 teams in the remaining three years, but don’t expect him to be moved any time soon.
If these final weeks haven’t convinced you, the Orioles need Cobb. They need a reliable starting pitcher to anchor a shaky rotation, and they need his maturity.
In this most difficult of seasons, Cobb was never anything but thoughtful and welcoming when approached—even after an awful start. He always gave detailed answers and never brushed off a questioner, even when he was frustrated.
Unlike other teams, the Orioles don’t have a Good Guy award, but after this dreadful season, I’d vote for Alex Cobb as mine.