A deeper dive into the Orioles roster brings up more questions regarding starter Alex Cobb and how he, like other veterans, fits into the rebuild. Whether it can hold the $43 million remaining on a contract that covers the next three seasons before he’s again eligible for free agency.
Manager Brandon Hyde says he doesn’t believe in the word “rebuild.” He believes in “competing,” and that’s the message being sent to his players. A message that will spread throughout the clubhouse and the back fields in Sarasota.
Cobb improves the odds and there’s no disputing it. He owns a career 3.75 ERA in seven seasons and posted back-to-back seasons at 2.76 and 2.87 with identical 3.9 WARs before undergoing ligament-reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.
Choosing to wait until late March to sign with the Orioles proved to be a self-inflicted wound, though he could argue that the market drove him to it. Cobb still was in the process of regaining the feel for his split-changeup, lost during his recovery from surgery, and it contributed to a miserable first half.
The 2-12 record, 6.41 ERA, 1.576 WHIP and .313 average against in 17 starts, leading some fans to blast the Orioles for another dud signing from the pitching market. Comparisons to Ubaldo Jiménez were made with regularity.
Only a recurring blister could slow and later halt Cobb after the All-Star break. He posted a 2.56 ERA and 1.156 WHIP in 11 games and opponents batted .232 against him. He notched a complete-game victory on Aug. 18 in Cleveland, the first time he went the distance since August 2013.
No starter on the team posted a higher WAR for the season than Cobb’s 1.3, and only reliever Mychal Givens topped him at 1.7. His 15 quality starts were tied for first on the club.
Cobb can provide some stability to the rotation, perhaps earning the opening day start. He can remain one of its leaders. And he certainly can push the “competitive” agenda with his track record while Hyde sifts through other starter candidates to fill the last spot or two.
Orioles starters ranked last again in the majors with a 5.48 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. They will find another layer beneath the bottom if Cobb leaves. They have a shot at improvement if he stays.
There are two sides to every debate, and it can be argued that the Orioles will lose with or without Cobb and the return for him in a trade is more useful in a rebuild. That removing most of his salary also makes sense in the current climate.
The Orioles explored those options at the Winter Meetings and figure to do so as they move through the rest of the offseason. They showed a willingness to absorb some of the remaining salary.
It would be false to assume that there’s no market for Cobb, that his contract prohibits the Orioles from being able to trade him.
The Orioles gave Cobb a fourth year in March to trump a three-year offer that was on the table. He’s down to three guaranteed years and teams can point to his second half as reason to pursue him.
Cobb’s run support average of 3.43 was the third lowest in the majors and the lowest for any season in his career. Another possible reason to project improvement from him in 2019.
Blisters on Cobb’s right index and middle fingers - the second more of a cut - were a greater issue than the lack of scoring. He exited a July 8 game in Minnesota in the sixth inning, as the Twins were sending 11 batters to the plate and tallying eight runs. He lasted only two innings on Sept. 11 and was removed after only four pitches in his final start Sept. 23 in the Bronx.
Dylan Bundy also failed to retire a batter on May 8 against the Royals at Camden Yards. He faced seven of them and surrendered four home runs.
It was that kind of season for the Orioles.
I’m in the camp of people who view Cobb as a valuable part of the 2019 team despite the rebuild, but I also think everyone should be available in the right deal, and if it comes along for the veteran right-hander the Orioles must be willing to part with him. It makes sense. But Cobb absolutely is a fit on this year’s team.
The Orioles don’t need to completely strip it down and leave a rusty frame.
Note: Former Reds hitting coach Don Long and former Red Sox first base coach and outfielder instructor Arnie Beyeler are joining Hyde’s coaching staff, according to industry sources. The club isn’t confirming or announcing its hires until the staff is complete.
Long served as the Phillies’ minor league hitting coordinator for eight years before joining the Reds. His contract wasn’t renewed following the 2018 season.
Beyeler served as the Marlins’ Triple-A manager the past three years, but his contract wasn’t renewed. He turned Red Sox center fielder Shane Victorino into a Gold Glove winner in right back in 2013 and converted infielders Mookie Betts and Brock Holt into outfielders over the next two seasons.
The Orioles already have hired Cubs minor league field and catching coordinator Tim Cossins and Phillies first base coach and infield/baserunning instructor José Flores as coaches on Hyde’s staff.
The Athletic first reported that Long and Beyeler were getting “serious consideration.”