If the Orioles pursue either or both of free agent right-handers Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, they would probably be delighted to get either pitcher. And either would be a huge addition to their rotation for 2018 and beyond.
But is one the better choice?
Lynn went 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA over 186 1/3 innings last season for the St. Louis Cardinals, the team he has pitched for since 2011. He has been a consistent winning pitcher for that club, posting ERAs between 2.74 and 3.97. With a 3.38 career ERA, he has been an above-average starter with ERA plus ratings of 133, 129 and 124 over the past three seasons. A 100 is league average.
Lynn finished seventh in the National League in ERA and sixth in opponent batting average (.223). He recorded 18 quality starts and tied for the major league lead in allowing two earned runs or less in 23 starts. His 96 quality starts since 2012 are tied for 10th in the NL and he missed the 2016 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in November 2015.
His walk rate is a concern. It was 3.8 batters per nine innings last year and is 3.5 for his career. He allowed 1.3 homers per nine innings last season, but that number is 0.8 for his career.
Cobb went 12-10 with an ERA of 3.66 over 179 1/3 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2017. His ERA was 4.52 after his first 12 starts. But in his last 17, Cobb went 8-5 with an ERA of 3.07, allowing three earned runs or less 14 times. He set career highs in wins, innings and starts (29).
A real plus for the Orioles would be Cobb’s effectiveness in nine starts last summer against Boston, New York and Toronto. In those nine, he was 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA.
Cobb also had Tommy John surgery, with his procedure coming in May 2015. That limited him to five September starts the following year.
A concern or two may be that Cobb has never made 30 or more starts or thrown 180 or more innings. While his ERA was 2.46 at home in 2017, it was 4.72 on the road. For those concerned about pace of play, Cobb took 26.2 seconds between pitches last season, the third-highest mark in the AL.
I will give a slight lean to Cobb as the better choice here, even though MLBTradeRumors.com ranked Lynn as the No. 9 best available free agent this winter and Cobb No. 11. Lynn is clearly the better innings eater and has had a consistent career. But Cobb’s AL East experience and better walk rate are plusses. He averaged 2.2 walks per nine last season and 2.6 in his career. Lynn strikes out more batters, but I’ll take the lower walk rate over that.
Possible 40-man additions: The deadline for teams to add players to their 40-man rosters to protect from losing them in the Rule 5 draft is later today. The Orioles’ 40-man is at 30 right now.
I’ll predict that four players get added today. Pitcher Hunter Harvey is the easy choice and he will get added. He may even find his way onto the 25-man roster at some point during the 2018 season and make his major league debut. I will guess that catcher Austin Wynns, utility player Steve Wilkerson and starting pitcher David Hess also get added.
In addition to the Orioles liking the talents that Wynns, Wilkerson and Hess bring to the table, all three would have the potential to stick with another club as a Rule 5 pick. Wynns could make it as some club’s backup catcher, Wilkerson as a utility infielder and Hess in either the rotation or bullpen.
Lefty Luis Gonzalez had a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League, but I still think he is on the bubble to make the 40-man and will guess he doesn’t. But you can sure make a case for him.
Just because the Orioles have so many 40-man openings doesn’t mean they need to add more players this year. They don’t have to have 40 on the 40-man and will want to leave a few spots open for possible free agent additions.
Earlier, I wrote this entry about players eligible for the Rule 5 draft next month.
Here is a partial list of other players that are eligible for the Rule 5 draft next month: Cristian Alvarado, Armando Araiza, Brandon Barker, Pat Connaughton, Drew Dosch, Paul Fry, Randolph Gassaway, Jay Gonzalez, Matthew Grimes, Josh Hart, Jordan Kipper, Branden Kline, Lucas Long, Adrian Marin, John Means, Yermin Mercedes, Alex Murphy, Ademar Rifaela, Ryan Ripken, Erick Salcedo, Travis Seabrooke, Matt Wotherspoon and Mike Yastrzemski.