O’s get Alex Cobb and the fans may get a contender

So how much better will the Orioles be with right-handers Andrew Cashner and Alex Cobb in their 2018 rotation? They’ll be joined by Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman.

The best-case scenario for the team would be for Cobb and Cashner to pitch at or close to their track records, Tillman to return to pre-2017 form, and Bundy and Gausman to take steps forward.

Will the Orioles go three-for-three with that wish list? If they do they might have a lot of fun this summer. Even if only part of that comes together, the rotation certainly should be set up to do considerably better than last season’s disaster. The Orioles are much closer to being a legit contender this morning.

How would you stack a rotation with those five pitchers? Would it go Cobb, Bundy, Gausman, Cashner, Tillman?

A few more notes on Cobb and his four-year agreement:

* The Cobb deal, should it end up as reported in the range of $55-60 million, would be the third-largest deal for a free agent pitcher from this winter. The Cubs signed Yu Darvish to a six-year deal worth $126 million and Jake Arrieta got three years and $75 million from the Phillies.

oriole-bird-sidebar.jpg* Cobb has strong career numbers against the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays. In 14 career starts versus Boston, he is 6-4 with a 3.43 ERA and 1.254 WHIP. In 14 starts against New York, he is 6-4 with a 2.99 ERA and 0.996 WHIP. In eight career starts versus Toronto, he is 3-3 with a 3.23 ERA and 1.056 WHIP. In 36 career starts against that trio of teams, he is 15-11 with a 3.21 ERA. Cobb also has good career numbers against the Orioles, going 6-2 with a 2.70 ERA.

* Over his first 12 starts last season, Cobb had an ERA of 4.52. But over his last 17, he went 8-5 with a 3.07 ERA. He allowed three or fewer earned runs 15 times in those 17 starts.

* Buck Showalter will like the fact that Baseball America, in its “best tools” survey, ranked Cobb with the No. 1 pickoff move in the American League. He had five pickoffs in 2017.

* Cobb actually struggled against the bottom of the batting order last season. He allowed an average of .299 to those hitters and the major league average was .246.

* According to BrooksBaseball.net, Cobb threw his two-seam sinker 52 percent of the time last season. He threw his curveball a career-high 34 percent and his split-finger fastball a career-low 14 percent.

The AL pitchers that ranked eighth through 13th in league ERA last year:

3.36 - Justin Verlander
3.40 - Andrew Cashner
3.55 - Sonny Gray
3.66 - Alex Cobb
3.83 - Michael Fulmer
4.07 - Chris Archer

The new O’s duo was keeping pretty good company during the 2017 season.

By the way, how many times in recent years do you hear that a player spurned the Chicago Cubs to sign with the Orioles? Cobb did. He turned down a four-year deal worth $48 million earlier this winter from Chicago. Remember when we heard he and Joe Maddon would have a reunion at Wrigley Field?

Finally, this move will have ramifications for the rest of the pitching staff, whenever Cobb is ready to be activated. That is one of the first questions to get answered after the deal becomes official: When can this guy be ready to pitch?

It likely bumps Miguel Castro back to his middle-relief role. It could make it hard or harder for any Rule 5 pitchers to make the staff, much less two or three. This move should send Mike Wright Jr. to the bullpen - if he even makes the opening day roster. He’s out of options and probably has done enough to make the team.

This deal also puts to rest two long-held notions that have been proven not true, if they ever were. One, that the Orioles were so burned by the Ubaldo Jiménez contract that team management would never again sign a free agent pitcher for significant dollars. And two, that the club would not offer a pitcher a deal longer than three years moving forward.

Put them both to rest now. Also probably along with the notion that the Orioles 2018 rotation will be terrible.

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