Three years ago, the Orioles were desperate to make another run. Executive vice-president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter were in the last year of their long-term deals.
Several of their key players, reliever Zack Britton, centerfielder Adam Jones and shortstop Manny Machado, were in the final year before free agency.
The Orioles had already signed another starting pitcher, right-hander Andrew Cashner, early in spring training, adding him to right-handers Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman in the starting rotation.
Late in spring training, the Orioles signed Alex Cobb to a four-year, $57 million contract. On Monday, it was reported that Cobb will be traded to the Los Angeles Angels, his time here never coming close to the expectations.
However, at the time of his signing, it looked like a masterstroke. Cobb was arguably the best free-agent pitcher the Orioles could lure to Baltimore, and his market had dropped.
The size of the contract was large, the biggest one the team had handed out to a free- agent pitcher, eclipsing the four-year, $50 million deal for Ubaldo Jimenez that expired the previous fall.
Cobb was two years removed from Tommy John surgery and had a solid 2017 with the Tampa Bay Rays. His 12-10 record and 3.66 ERA for the Rays looked impressive. If he could duplicate that, the Orioles would have been happy.
Unfortunately, Cobb never came close to matching that.
When the trade of Cobb, which was first reported by The Athletic, becomes official, Cobb will head to the Angels for second baseman Jahmai Jones.
Cobb will try to make something positive happen in the final year of his contract, and the Orioles will pay heavily to get out of that deal.
The Orioles, who collapsed in 2018, ending with a franchise-worst record of 47-115, traded not only Britton and Machado in July, but also made deals that included Gausman, relievers Brad Brach and Darren O’Day and second baseman Jonathan Schoop. They wanted to deal Jones, too, but he invoked his no-trade clause and played out the season in Baltimore before leaving for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Duquette and Showalter were let go at the end of the season, and Mike Elias was hired in November 2018.
Cobb’s name was thrown around in trade talks shortly after Elias’ arrival, but there was too much money left on that contract, and Cobb had underperformed in that first season.
Because Cobb didn’t sign until March 21st, he got a late start on the season. In his first three starts, he allowed 17 earned runs on 30 hits in 11 2/3 innings for a 13.11 ERA.
Even though Cobb’s stat line improved, the team didn’t, and he hardly pitched in September, finishing with a 5-15 record and 4.90 ERA.
Cobb had a string of solid starts in July and August but persistent blisters ended his season early, and he was hardly a hot commodity on the trade market.
In 2019, he was limited to three starts because of hip and knee surgeries. Last season, he pitched well at the end of the season. In his last two starts, Cobb gave up three runs on 10 hits in 13 innings, restoring some trade value. He finished 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA,
In his three seasons with the Orioles, he was 7-22 with a 5.10 ERA.
Cobb is a class act and was always willing to talk about pitching. It’s a shame that his time in Baltimore won’t be remembered fondly. As one of the few veterans remaining on the team, he took on a leadership role when the August 27th game at Tampa Bay was postponed as part of the Black Lives Matter protests.
His brother, R.J., was awarded the Purple Heart because of his heroic actions in the Iraq war, and is now a police officer. Alex has always supported police officers and made unpublicized humanitarian trips to impoverished areas. Cobb was eager to support the police and his Black Oriole teammates in the protest.
Without Cobb, the Orioles will need veterans to augment the young rotation he’ll leave behind. Left-hander John Means will be the staff leader, and rookie left-hander Keegan Akin and another first-year guy, right-hander Dean Kremer, will need veteran help.
Elias has been hunting for a veteran starter or two, perhaps on minor league contracts, and maybe a major league deal now that Cobb is gone.
Jones will be the first player with major league experience Elias has acquired in a trade. In his deals for major league players, Bundy, Cashner, pitchers Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Mychal Givens, Tommy Milone and Hector Velázquez and infielders José Iglesias and Jonathan Villar, Elias’ net was 18 players. All lacked major league experience.
Jones has just seven major league at-bats, but Elias said after the signing of shortstop Freddy Galvis that he was still looking for another utility player.
Jones has experience in the outfield in the minors and will compete for a spot on the club against several other utility players. He’s never played shortstop or third base in the minor leagues.
Jones, who was the Angels’ second-round pick in 2015, is the seventh highest-rated prospect in MLB Pipeline and will be the seventh player acquired by the Orioles from Los Angeles in the past 14 months.
In December 2019, the Orioles acquired right-handers Kyle Bradish, Kyle Brnovich, Isaac Mattson and Zach Peek in exchange for Bundy. In December 2020, right-handers Jean Pinto and Garrett Stallings were traded for Iglesias.
Note: First baseman/outfielder Chris Shaw cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. He was designated for assignment when the Orioles signed shortstop Freddy Galvis as a free agent last Wednesday.