In 2018, Alex Cobb received the most expensive contract given to a free agent pitcher in team history. Cobb’s four-year, $57 million deal hasn’t worked out well for the Orioles.
Even if Cobb had pitched well in his first season, it wouldn’t have made much difference for the Orioles, who were on their way to a franchise-worst 115 losses.
At the time Cobb signed, the Orioles were hoping for a final run at a playoff spot. They signed not only Cobb, but another free-agent pitcher, Andrew Cashner.
Cashner’s deal was for only two years, and he pitched well enough in the first half of the 2019 season to create a market for himself. The Orioles peddled him to the Boston Red Sox in July for two teenage Dominican Summer League prospects.
The Orioles would like to deal Cobb, but in this depressed economic environment, it will be hard to find a team who’ll want to take on the final $15 million he’s owed for 2021.
Cobb is already owed $20 million in deferred money and since the 60-game season didn’t allow him to pitch 130 innings in 2020, $5.5 million of his 2021 salary is also deferred.
In a stronger baseball economy, the Orioles could help pay some of Cobb’s salary, but that might not be possible in 2021.
Cobb’s deferred money will be paid out between 2022 and 2035.
Making a deal for Cobb will test the creativity of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias. On the other hand, Cobb can help 2021 Orioles.
After a lost 2019 season when he needed hip and knee surgery after just three starts, Cobb had a better 2020.
His 2018 got off to a late start because he didn’t sign until March 21. In the first half of the season, Cobb was 2-12 with a 6.41 ERA but threw significantly better in the second half when he was 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA. His season was shortened because of blisters in September.
After last year’s shutdown, Cobb had to deal with the broken rhythms of 2020. He didn’t pitch badly, going 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA. According to BaseballReference.com, his WAR was 1.0.
There’s one strange stat in Cobb’s time with the Orioles. In his three years in Baltimore, he’s yet to win a game at home.
Cobb is 0-11 with a 5.29 ERA at home; 7-11 with a 5.04 ERA on the road.
Should Cobb return to the Orioles for 2021, he can be an innings-eater. Since Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer and Bruce Zimmermann had relatively few competitive innings in 2020, they’re likely to be restricted when next year begins.
The Orioles will need starters who can go deep into games, and Cobb worked six and seven innings in his last two starts. John Means, who rebounded nicely in September, and a healthy Cobb could take pressure off the inexperienced starters.
Through the trades of Cashner, Dylan Bundy, Miguel Castro and Mychal Givens, the Orioles have accumulated some young talent. The two players to be named later in the August 30th deal for starter Tommy Milone haven’t been announced.
If the Orioles are able to unload Cobb’s salary, they’ll probably sign a veteran pitcher or two to minor league contracts as they did with Milone and Wade LeBlanc last season. Cobb can veto trades to 10 clubs in 2021.
But if they don’t make a deal, keeping Cobb might turn out to be a positive move, especially his influence on younger players.
Cobb has gone on unannounced humanitarian missions to help the underprivileged, and he has been a steadfast supporter of the military and police officers. His brother, R.J., was awarded the Purple Heart during his service in Iraq.
When the Orioles decided not to play their scheduled August 27th game at Tampa Bay after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Cobb spoke movingly about supporting his Black teammates and the police.
“I’m learning to not look at it through those lenses anymore,” Cobb said. “In the beginning, you had to be one side or the other. You had to be for our police or for our inner-city communities, and I just don’t think that was the right way to look at things.
“I will always respect every single person that puts on a uniform and goes out to protect us, but I also have had too many moments where I look into my teammates’ eyes or my friends’ eyes that I can see that they’re dealing with some real struggles and that their hearts are heavy, and we need to find a way to start the conversation of mending the two sides rather than picking a side. I don’t know what that avenue is.
“It’s something that’s evolving each day. What we’re seeing in our communities and now with our athletes, where there was a lot of friction before, I think that it’s starting to mend a little bit. I think that’s a good first step. I pray that we’re able to find a way for everybody to just love everybody.”