SARASOTA, Fla.—A year ago, Alex Cobb was still a free agent, searching for his new baseball home. When he finally signed with the Orioles on March 21, some observers thought that Cobb’s addition meant the team could possibly contend for the postseason.
Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way.
Instead of his second postseason team, Cobb was pitching for one that lost 115 games, and his season started out horribly.
At the mathematical midpoint of the season, Cobb was 2-9 with a 6.75 ERA, and the Orioles were getting ready for a full-scale makeover. While his second half was much better, he still ended with a 5-15 record and 4.90 ERA.
Coming from the Tampa Bay Rays, where the payroll was far lower than it was in Baltimore, Cobb felt the Orioles didn’t take advantage of what they had.
“I felt like there were a lot of times where we were going into competition without a full arsenal,” Cobb said. “Far behind the competition we were facing, and that’s frustrating.
“It’s tough to go in there with a lot of confidence because you know how much more information is being given to the other side because I’ve been on the other side, and I know just from defensive strategy to scouting reports, information-type of things. I feel like it’s an even playing field now.”
It was an industry-wide perception that the Orioles were well behind the curve analytically. That’s not the case now, according to Cobb.
“I think we’re in the stage now where they’re beginning to introduce the elementary aspects of what they believe,” Cobb said.
With the new Orioles administration, Cobb said that he can feel a difference, and the players are accepting of the information they’re offering.
“To really get that across to each person, you have to really know their personality, so each person they brought in, they’re all people persons,” Cobb said.
“They know how to create a relationship that’s going to last throughout a full season. It also opens up avenues to create a good culture in a clubhouse. It creates an atmosphere to where guys want to play for the good beside them. They want to play for their skipper, they want to play for their pitching coach because they don’t want to disappoint them. They feel like they’re going into competition together and they feel like they’re creating a really nice foundation for the new direction of the organization.”
Cobb isn’t criticizing the previous regime, but he clearly likes the new direction.
“I see a lot of great personalities,” he said. “I see people that want to get to know you first. They’re trying to get to know each and every individual before they, I feel like, really push their strategy on what they believe is going to help each person.”
The 31-year-old right-hander is one of the more thoughtful people in the Orioles clubhouse, and he has a positive impression of general manager Mike Elias and manager Brandon Hyde.
“I feel like we’ve got the guys that have been around the league, seen championship caliber organizations,” Cobb said. “Both organizations that Mike and Brandon are coming from have won World Series recently. They know what it takes to get there. When you have those guys come in and have seen that much success and tell you that your stuff is good, it does play; we need to tweak a few things here and there, it’s not a full rebuild, it gives you confidence.”
Cobb still has three years remaining on a four-year, $57 million contract, and things have changed drastically since they signed him. It’s possible that if he has a strong first-half of the season that he could be attractive to a contender in the trade market.
“Obviously, I would like to be in a clubhouse that’s competing for a World Series, and I think every single player that puts on a uniform would like to do that,” Cobb said.
“That’s not the case for me right now. Honestly, I don’t think I could be in a better position for myself and my career than here right now. I know that might sound funny. We’re in the beginning of a rebuild.
“If you would have asked me that Day One of spring training here, I probably would have told you, I wouldn’t have told you that.
It’s interesting that Cobb feels that way because it’s likely the Orioles won’t be competitive until perhaps the final year of his contract in 2021.
“After talking with everybody, the front office, their visions of what’s going on and what they believe I can do, you buy into it,” Cobb says.
“You’re excited about it. There’s not enough years in your career to really not take full advantage of what’s in front of you because at the end of the day, I see my jersey hanging up in my locker every day in here. The little kid in me would be very disappointed in the adult me if I wasn’t still getting excited about it every day. I truly am.
“There’s obviously the visions of the grass being greener other places, but I’m happy right now. I’m thrilled where I’m at. I enjoy my teammates. I know it’s only the second week of camp, but I’m enjoying every day walking into the locker room, and I couldn’t say that last year every day, but I truly do feel that way this year so far.”