In what ended up being a frustrating trip through free agency, signs were pointing to starting pitcher Alex Cobb not getting close to the contract he was searching for. I mean, it wasn’t hard to think that upon seeing how the rest of the market shook out.
Yu Darvish ended up getting $126 million from the Chicago Cubs, but Jake Arrieta had to settle for “only” $75 million from the Philadelphia Phillies, while Lance Lynn decided to bet on himself by taking a one-year, $12 million guarantee from the Minnesota Twins. And since we hadn’t heard about any other offer after he turned down the Cubs’ three-year, $42 million deal at the beginning on January, it appeared he’d probably have to settle for less.
After all, that’s been the recent theme for a handful of free agents this past winter.
That’s not the case, though, as Cobb has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $57 million contract (pending a physical) on Tuesday with the Baltimore Orioles, who really needed to add legitimate depth for their rotation.
The Obvious Need and Surprising Commitment
To put it plainly, the Orioles’ rotation was dreadful last season.
The starting staff’s cumulative fWAR (5.5), ERA (5.70), home runs allowed per nine innings (1.69), and innings pitched (846) were all among the worst in baseball. To make matters worse, they headed into this past winter with only two sure things for the 2018 rotation in Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Instead of going for more of the high-end options to fill these voids, Baltimore opted to sign Andrew Cashner to a two-year, $16 million deal while also re-signing Chris Tillman to a one-year, $3 million guarantee. Getting bodies to fill rotation spots was a plus, but Cashner comes with serious regression risks and Tillman is fresh off a disappointing 7.84 ERA and 5.76 SIERA in 93 innings of work.
The Orioles’ need to find starting pitchers has been painfully obvious — even after making those two acquisitions. However, it is surprising that they’re planning on making this kind of commitment to Cobb. Especially since the expectation earlier in the winter was that Baltimore wouldn’t be spending a lot of money to fill roster holes.
A Second-Half Performance to Believe In
Since he missed the entire 2015 season and threw just 22 innings in 2016 because of Tommy John surgery, this past season was a great success for the 30-year-old right-hander.
Showing the ability and health necessary to toe the rubber 29 times while tallying 179.1 innings was crucial before he hit the open market. Even though his 3.66 ERA and 4.48 SIERA weren’t on the same level as his 2013-14 performance, he took things up a notch in the second half.
Check out how his first- and second-half performance compare to those 2013 and 2014 campaigns.
|1st Half 2017||115.1||6.2%||15.8%||3.75||45.4%||33.1%||36.8%|
|2nd Half 2017||64.0||5.4%||20.0%||3.52||52.3%||24.9%||37.1%|
The hard contact numbers are a little high, but if Cobb is going to be playing his home games at a hitter-friendly park like Camden Yards, keeping that ground-ball rate above 50.0% is going to be important moving forward.
Will This Push the Needle?
Was it surprising to see the Orioles being willing to commit this number of years and dollars in this situation? Well, yes, because it’d be a franchise record for a free-agent pitcher if it all becomes official. But it’s also surprising because this move isn’t expected to move the needle all that much with regard to Baltimore’s playoff chances.
Prior to this deal, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projections saw the Orioles finishing last in the American League East with a 70-92 record. Steamer Projections had originally tabbed Cobb’s 2018 performance with an fWAR of 1.7. So it’s not as if this agreement will get them over the proverbial hump and back into the postseason when looking at their roster on paper. A lot of things have to go right in order for that to happen.
Just a few days ago, manager Buck Showalter said that his club is “lying in the weeds,” but also mentioned that he wasn’t sure exactly how deep those weeds are. It makes sense for them to try winning with the current team while Manny Machado is still on the roster, but it’s not as if they were right on the cusp of contention to begin with.
Although Baltimore has outperformed preseason projections and expectations before, it’ll be tough to do this year with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees clearly at the top of the divisional food chain. The Orioles badly needed to acquire another starting pitcher to satisfy an obvious need. While Cobb accomplishes that, it would’ve been even better if this agreement was paired with another one of this winter’s top available pitchers.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.