SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles played the waiting game again in free agency and are close to scoring with the biggest piece remaining on the free agent market.
Right-hander Alex Cobb is nearing an agreement with the Orioles, according to a source, and would become the third starter signed by the club since opening camp. Confirmation could come later tonight.
Cobb, 30, spent all six of his major league seasons with the Rays and compiled a 48-35 record, 3.50 ERA and 1.217 WHIP in 115 starts. In a career-high 29 starts and 179 1/3 innings last summer, Cobb went 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.221 WHIP after recovering from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in May 2015.
The procedure, handled by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., limited him to five starts in 2016.
The Orioles have maintained a dialogue with Cobb’s Beverly Hills Sports Council agents throughout the offseason while also negotiating with a host of other free agents.
They signed Andrew Cashner to a two-year deal that guarantees $16 million and could max out at $41 million over three seasons, and they re-signed Chris Tillman to a one-year, $3 million contract that includes $7 million in possible incentives and bonuses.
Cobb would represent the biggest haul for a team in dire need of a rotation facelift. Orioles starters compiled a franchise-worst 5.70 ERA in 2017 and they shoulder most of the blame for a last-place finish in the American League East.
The late signing will make it a challenge for Cobb to be ready to start the season. The Orioles open at home on March 29 versus the Twins.
Cashner and Tillman join holdovers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, who entered camp vying for the opening day assignment. The competition for fifth starter came down to Mike Wright Jr., Rule 5 pick Nestor Cortes Jr. and Miguel Castro, but Cobb’s signing would drastically alter the pitching landscape.
Castro could return to his relief role, which he handled so effectively last summer. Wright is out of minor league options and Cortes can’t be sent down without clearing waivers and being offered back to the Yankees. They’re also candidates to work in long relief.
Because Cobb turned down the Rays’ qualifying offer, the Orioles would have to surrender their third-highest pick and the 51st overall in the upcoming amateur draft.
The Orioles also would need to create a spot for Cobb on their 40-man roster.
Lance Lynn signed a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins despite the Orioles’ willingness to offer a multi-year deal. Cobb was intent on receiving a more lucrative contract and the Orioles kept working to reach an agreement.
Much of the appeal attached to Cobb centers on his experience and comfort within the division. He’s 6-4 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.254 WHIP in 14 starts against the Red Sox, 6-4 with a 2.99 ERA and 0.996 WHIP in 14 starts against the Yankees and 3-3 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.056 WHIP in eight starts versus the Blue Jays. He’s gone 6-2 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in 12 starts against the Orioles.
A busy spring training for the Orioles also includes signing outfielders Colby Rasmus and Alex Presley, infielder Danny Valencia and designated hitter Pedro Álvarez to minor league deals. Rasmus figures to be part of a platoon in right field, Valencia could make the club in a utility role and Álvarez has a shot to get at-bats as the designated hitter with Mark Trumbo headed to the 10-day disabled list.
Yahoo Sports first reported that Cobb was close to reaching an agreement and suggested the Orioles were the favorites.
Update: According to an industry source, the deal with Cobb would cover four years, a surprise given their stance at the Winter Meetings.
Update II: The agreement with Cobb, pending a physical, is four years and close to $60 million.
Update III: I’m told that $56 million for Cobb is “almost on the nose,” and the deal includes deferrals for each year. It’s the largest contract given by the Orioles to a free agent pitcher in club history, surpassing the 4-year, $50 million contract for Ubaldo Jimenez.
Cobb’s deal is pending the completion of a physical.