Alex Cobb Turns the Corner – Now What?

Alex Cobb of the Orioles pitches.

Coming off arguably his best start since 2013, Alex Cobb appears to have turned the corner. Over his last six starts, Cobb holds a 2.02 ERA. During that span he has lowered his ERA from 6.41 to 5.09. Overall, it’s not what the Orioles expected heading into a four-year, $57 million deal. However, Cobb could provide the Orioles value, and here I’ll explore their options with regard to his future.

 

1. Trade Cobb this August

Now, this is probably the unlikeliest of options, because he won’t bring much value in return, the Orioles would be selling very low on an established veteran starter, and he’d have to waive his full no-trade clause (hey, what veteran wouldn’t want to get out of Baltimore if they could right now though, right?)

I suggested a week or so ago that they should consider trading him, mainly because he would almost certainly pass through waivers and teams get desperate for starting pitching heading into the playoffs. I’ve rethought this, realizing that they may get a decent piece or two in return, but they shouldn’t sell low again like I feel they did in the Kevin Gausman deal.

I could see teams like the Brewers or Yankees having interest (the O’s trade deadline trading partners, coincidentally), but how much would they give up for a starter with a high contract sporting a 5+ ERA?

The answer is probably disappointing for Orioles fans. If Cobb passes through waivers, the front office should at least listen, but considering Cobb hasn’t put together a fully consistent season, it’s unlikely for teams to bite. To me, a Cobb August trade could resemble the JA Happ trade of this year. Happ was a 1.1 WAR player with Toronto but is a pending free agent. Cobb is a 0.7 WAR player with the Orioles, but has three years and $42 million left on his deal. Yes teams value control, but $43 million left on a deal for an aging pitcher is probably about as desirable as trading for a pending free agent.

In that deal, the Blue Jays received Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney. Drury has only had one positive WAR season since his rookie season in 2015 and McKinney has always been regarded as a good prospect, but has now been traded three times since being drafted five years ago. Drury does have promise, but injuries have kept him from ever being on the field consistently. McKinney could provide value as a power outfield bat, but all of his attributes are fairly average, and no tool stands out more than the next. If the Orioles seriously consider trading Cobb by the end of the month, this is the type of package I’d think they could expect in return.

Worth it? Probably not, at this point. Let’s cross that one off.

 

2. Trade Cobb in the Next Year or Two

Now we’re talking.

This is probably the likeliest of scenarios. It’s doubtful Cobb pitches on the next Orioles playoff team. He theoretically could in 2021, but that would be the last year of his contract. If Cobb were able to bounce back next year, he could drastically improve his stock. The O’s don’t have too many tradeable pieces left after parting with six veteran players last month, so Cobb could help to infuse more talent into the system. If he’s performing up to his standards and the Orioles get a bit further into his contract to shed more money, teams would be more apt to acquire the starter.

 

3. Keep Cobb through Length of Contract

Now, this may not make sense on the surface, but Cobb staying for four years could provide tons of value to the future Orioles. Regardless, the Orioles will need pitching next season – and thereafter – to not only provide innings, but also to allow pitching prospects to further develop so as not to be rushed. You’ve gotta run SOMEONE out there on the mound every night, and I don’t think having Cobb (or Andrew Cashner, for that matter) in the rotation next year would be counterproductive to their rebuild at all.

Cobb could give the Orioles quality pitching over the next few years and allow the youngsters to learn from him. Pitching coaches have to do their jobs, but in between starts, Cobb could act as a mentor. As I previously mentioned, it is doubtful Cobb would pitch on the next winning O’s squad, but if the Birds are back in contention in 2021, they could conceivably be relying on him down the stretch as a staple in the rotation.

With the recently abysmal Ubaldo Jimenez contract fresh on Orioles fans minds, having Cobb provide 3.5 out of 4 years of quality performance would give the fans some confidence in the front office making judgment calls for future free agent pitchers.

Like I said, I still think the likeliest of scenarios is that they trade him at some point over the next two years or so, because the Orioles seem intent on reducing MLB payroll. However, if they were somehow able to shed the Chris Davis deal in the next few years, Cobb may both fit in the budget and make sense timeline-wise, giving the Orioles pitching prospects the proper amount of time they need to develop.

Let’s hope what we’re seeing now is a sign of things to come. The Cobb contract still has the potential to be a very valuable one for the franchise.

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