Cobb figures to be too costly for Orioles

The Orioles must do more than tinker with their rotation. With the possible departures of four starters, it requires a complete overhaul before opening day.

Ubaldo Jiménez, Chris Tillman and Jeremy Hellickson are pending free agents and Wade Miley could join them, with the Orioles expected to decline his $12 million option. Tillman could be re-signed at a significantly reduced rate, but other holes must be plugged.

I’ve heard that Miley would like a return to the National League, where he pitched for the Diamondbacks from 2011-2014 and compiled a 3.79 ERA.

It’s too big of a stretch to put the Orioles in contention for Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. They’re the priciest free agents and it would take a drastic change in organizational thinking for the necessary dollars to flow.

ubaldo-jimenez-throwing-gray-side (1).jpgGiving Jiménez $50 million over four years was unprecedented in Baltimore. The return didn’t match the financial commitment. To say it fell short is akin to saying Spam doesn’t match filet mignon.

Nothing personal with Jiménez, who worked hard and shunned excuses, but the Orioles didn’t make a $50 million investment just so they could praise his durability. “He takes the ball every fifth day” is flattering, for sure, but it can’t be the best trait.

The industry shares a curiosity over Alex Cobb’s market and the Orioles most definitely will be keen observers. He’s in the second tier of free agent pitchers, but likely will be out of their reach.

(They’d need scaffolding, but more on that later.)

Cobb earned $4.2 million in his final year of arbitration eligibility after making $4 million in 2015 and 2016. He’s not searching for another tiny bump. It’s his turn to get paid.

The entire 2015 season eluded Cobb following ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, and he pitched in only five September games the following summer, allowing 15 runs and 17 hits in 4 1/3 innings in his final two appearances.

Any lingering concerns about Cobb should have vanished this year. He went 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.221 WHIP in a career-high 29 starts and 179 1/3 innings, and he just turned 30. He’s also a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

Cobb’s 2.4 WAR would have ranked second on the staff behind Dylan Bundy (2.7) and ahead of Kevin Gausman (1.9), Miley (minus-0.3), Hellickson (minus-0.9), Jiménez (minus-1.3) and Tillman (minus-2.2). He allowed a combined 12 runs in August and September. His strikeouts per nine innings dropped from 8.4 in 2013 to 6.4 this year, but he relied less on his split-changeup following surgery and increased the use of his curveball - a pitch that became more effective and painted a silver lining on his procedure.

Another full season removed from Tommy John figures to sharpen Cobb’s command, perhaps increase his velocity a tick and put the split more into play. And his experience in the American League East broadens his appeal. He owns a career 2.99 ERA in 14 starts against the Yankees, a 3.23 ERA in eight starts against the Blue Jays and a 3.43 ERA in 14 starts against the Red Sox.

Cobb is 6-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 12 starts against the Orioles. Would be nice to have him on their side, but Orioles fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.

He’s expected to receive and reject the Rays’ $18.1 million qualifying offer, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement lessens the compensation. It’s not a detriment. However, there will be widespread interest, with many teams viewing him as middle-of-the-rotation starter who will be a cheaper alternative to the No. 1s, but still capable of delivering like an ace. The Yankees and Blue Jays already are rumored to have serious interest.

Cobb has his warts. His groundball rate is trending down and hitters made harder contact against him this year, according to FanGraphs.com. But again, he had to be a different pitcher coming off surgery.

I’d like to see the Orioles made an aggressive play for him, but it’s hard to fathom them doling out the necessary dollars. Jiménez’s failures may have something or nothing to do with it. It’s still spending outside their comfort zone for pitching.

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