Notes on Cobb interest and Villar’s position

LAS VEGAS - The Orioles aren’t expected to shop Dylan Bundy at the Winter Meetings, with executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias referencing the right-hander in a letter sent out to season ticket holders. However, some of the executives who have gathered at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino are curious about the availability of Alex Cobb, who has three years and $43 million remaining on the deal he signed in spring training.

I spoke with one executive yesterday who thought the Orioles would be wise to hold onto Cobb, citing the veteran’s improvement in the second half and saying, “Someone has to start.” However, he confirmed that Cobb’s name came up during internal discussions in one of the hotel suites.

Cobb-Throwing-Orange-Sidebar.jpgCobb’s first season in Baltimore was doomed from the beginning, with the late signing, abbreviated spring training and difficulty in gaining a feel for his changeup. He went 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA and 1.411 WHIP in 28 starts, but he posted a 2.56 ERA and 1.156 WHIP in 11 games after the break.

A blister on Cobb’s right middle finger limited him to three starts in September and he threw only four pitches at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 23 before walking off the mound and finishing his season.

A rebuilding club that’s cut payroll significantly might want to shed the remainder of Cobb’s salary, but it also could use a reliable veteran starter - not the first-half version - for a rotation that isn’t deep in that area.

Cobb, Bundy and Andrew Cashner will make up three-fifths of it barring a trade. The back end spots are exposed and the club might attempt to sign or trade for another veteran. Otherwise, the Orioles can toss David Hess, Yefry Ramírez, Jimmy Yacabonis, Josh Rogers, John Means, Luis Ortiz and others into a scrum and see which two are left standing.

Elias indicated yesterday during his media session that more veterans could be traded beyond the cluster that departed in July, saying, “We’re going to listen and look at anything that advances our goal of broadening and elevating the talent base across the organization.”

It isn’t a stretch to say that Cobb is available at the right price. And he isn’t the only one. But Elias said he’s at the stage where he’s gauging the level of interest from other clubs and he doesn’t sense “anything imminent.”

Elias didn’t volunteer the areas on the roster that need to be addressed, but he agreed when I rattled off a few of them, including catcher, shortstop and right field. But he later offered how Jonathan Villar currently is tabbed as the “primary” shortstop rather than second baseman, the latter position where he made most of his starts with the Orioles.

“I’m familiar with Villar. We had him in Houston,” Elias said. “He’s a very physically gifted player who’s very capable of playing shortstop, so us having that option right now is terrific and we’ll see how the roster is constructed and various day-to-day matchups where the bulk of the playing time falls. But as of right now he’s our primary shortstop.

“With infield positioning in this day and age and shifting, it’s good to have as many people with shortstop skills that you can find.”

Elias didn’t rule out second base, but repeated that he considers Villar to be a shortstop.

“These are definitions that are blurring in today’s game,” he said, “and we’re going to look for additional middle infielders to complement him, whether that’s from inside the organization or outside.”

With that in mind, I’m wondering if the Orioles will pass on free agents José Iglesias and Adeiny Hechavarria because they’ve mostly been shortstops - and quite good with the glove - while possessing minimal experience at second base.

Former manager Buck Showalter mentioned numerous times this year that he wanted the Orioles to sign Hechavarria whenever the Cuban native became available and it didn’t happen. Hechavarria and Iglesias will be discussed at these meetings if it hasn’t already occurred inside Elias’ suite.

The fact that both players are represented by Magnus Sports could prove to be a real convenience.

Elias’ judgment on Villar certainly can be trusted, though perhaps his opinion changes with a more current viewpoint. But I’d make a hard push for a plus defender at short because the lack of one is killer.

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