In Mike Elias’ final scheduled press briefing of the 2019 season, the Orioles’ general manager covered a variety of topics. One of the areas that didn’t get much attention were his comments on starter Alex Cobb.
“I think he’s going to be in spring training, have a normal spring training, and we’ll roll him out there and get a full season out of him,” Elias said Sunday.
In May, Elias dropped the news that Cobb would have season-ending hip surgery. Cobb has also had what Elias called “a very minor knee procedure that from everything that our medical staff has been told went smoothly and is not something that’s probably going to present a lot of complications.”
Cobb, who’ll turn 32 on October 7, signed a four-year, $57 million contract in March 2018, and is 5-17 with a 5.36 ERA since then.
“He should feel a lot better than he did this year,” Elias said. “We will have the issue of him not having pitched much at all this year, and then going out next year, and how is be built up? How is his arm? The hip and knee issues should be totally behind him. I can’t wait to see him in spring training. We’re going to need him.”
A healthy Cobb would mean the Orioles would have three dependable starters for 2020 — Cobb, Dylan Bundy and John Means. (Bundy won his seventh game Tuesday night, limiting the Toronto Blue Jays to two runs in seven innings in an 11-4 win paced by Trey Mancini’s five hits and home runs by DJ Stewart and Dwight Smith Jr.)
Cobb was supposed to start Opening Day, but a groin injury prevented him from doing so. He had another trip to the 10-day injured list after he started the home opener. Cobb never pitched after April 26, finishing with three losses in three starts and a 10.95 ERA,
Andrew Cashner made the Opening Day start and went on to pitch well enough to create a market for himself.
The Orioles traded Cashner to the Boston Red Sox for two Dominican Summer League players. Even though Cobb has $29 million left on his contract, a good first half in 2020 could make him a conversation piece for teams in the playoff hunt.
Perhaps the best-case scenario is that Cobb does well and some of the Orioles’ younger pitchers — Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Zac Lowther, become candidates to replace him if he’s moved.
On openers: The Orioles employed the opener strategy a few times this season. Nate Karns, who began the season with the team, started the second game of the season. He pitched only three more times because of injuries, and was released on August 7.
“I really leave that to Brandon on a nightly basis,” Elias said of using the opener.
One of the best pitching performances of the season came last Friday night when Richard Bleier was used as the opener and Aaron Brooks followed.
Brooks has mixed in excellent performances with some frightful ones, but in his most recent outing, he allowed just one run on one hit in seven innings.
That was Brooks’ longest outing in more than four years, and the longest relief appearance by an Oriole since July 13, 1995 when Arthur Rhodes relieved Mike Mussina.
“The opener thing, it only makes sense to me in certain circumstances,” Elias said.
“If there’s a bunch of left-handed hitters at the top of somebody’s lineup, it just depends on the personnel and the team. I don’t think it’s going to be a wide organizational strategy like, we’re going to use openers come hell or high water. We’ll just, on a nightly basis if it makes sense, if the bullpen is not rested a certain way, that’s kind of how he did it this year and I agree with that.”
Brooks was picked up on waivers from Oakland just before the All-Star break and had a rough beginning, but has won four of his last six appearances.
The Orioles will have openings for starters next season, and Brooks’ late-season run gives him a chance to begin 2020 in the rotation.
Latitude with ownership: Elias was hired by John and Louis Angelos and said he’s been given the latitude to do his job.
“It’s been terrific,” Elias said. “I wouldn’t have come here [and] taken this job if I didn’t think there was going to be a good rapport and good relationship with the ownership group. And they’ve recognized the need for big changes and sweeping changes, and they’re allowing us to do it, and they’re supporting [us] throughout that. That’s really important. This is not an easy situation we’re in.
“We all need one another’s support and understanding that this is going to be a rocky climb, but it will be worth it.”
Elias has made over the Orioles’ front-office and minor league staff, dismissing a number of longtime employees with institutional knowledge, and it’s clear that he hasn’t had pushback on those moves.
On the coaching staff: Elias hinted that there could be changes in the coaching staff, but spoke highly of their work.
“I think they did well,” Elias said. “Like I said, across the board, we had a lot of players taking a step forward. I think we did a good job this year with positioning and the shifts. When you look at the objective numbers on that, we’re actually one of the top couple of teams in the league, and there was a lot of positives with the development that happened with the players.”
Elias wasn’t hired until mid-November, and manager Brandon Hyde wasn’t until December 14.
“They have been a real good group,” Elias said. “They were thrown together late. A lot of these guys were hired in November, December, January, and it’s a difficult circumstance coming into the American League East with a team that’s a lot of waiver-wire-type guys. And I think they did very well with the circumstance.”
Hyde’s coaches are Arnie Beyeler (first base/outfield), Doug Brocail (pitching), Howie Clark (assistant hitting), Tim Cossins (catching/major league field coordinator, Jose Flores (third base/infield), Jose Hernandez (major league coach), Don Long (hitting) and John Wasdin (bullpen).
It wouldn’t be a surprise if there were changes since Hyde cobbled together a staff late in the hiring season.