More thoughts on Alex Cobb

Immediate reaction to yesterday morning’s news that the Orioles were working on a trade to send veteran starter Alex Cobb to the Angels included the following:

Why now?

How many young pitchers are coming to the Orioles?

What happens to the rotation?

What is it about the Angels?

How about that payroll?

Not necessarily in that order, but you get the idea.

Cobb might carry more value in early February than at the trade deadline, when he’s a rental with free agency approaching. And there are no guarantees that he’ll avoid injury.

He closed out the 2020 season on a bit of a roll with two quality starts. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of 10 outings. Sell higher rather than lower.

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias indicated a willingness to hold onto Cobb while speaking with the media in an early December Zoom conference call.

Cobb-Home-Opener-sidebar.jpg“First of all, he’s serving a very important role on our team stabilizing our rotation with the young guys, mentoring the young guys, and we’re planning on keeping him all year and would be thrilled if he contributed and is healthy again like he was last year and stabilized the entire rotation that way,” Elias said.

“He is coming up on his last year of his deal with the Orioles. He’s a big-time, known name across the league. Teams are going to be interested in him. I think that we’ve been encouraged by some of the signings that have happened the last couple of days and weeks. It’s good to see. I think people hear the vaccine news and are making optimistic expectations about the fact that we’re going to get out of this situation at some point. I have no doubt if he pitches like Alex Cobb, he’s going to draw interest and we’re going to ultimately see where we’re at and see what the situation is.

“But I think anytime you’ve got a veteran pitcher pitching well, healthy and is essentially on a one-year deal, that’s going to attract a lot of interest. ... I think it would be beneficial for us to go into the season with Alex if that’s the way that it shakes out and having that front end spot in the rotation fortified with his ability and veteran presence. I can see a lot of positives there.”

Plans can change, especially if a team comes along with an enticing offer for a pitcher who isn’t untouchable.

Elias said “if that’s the way that it shakes out,” which left the door open for a trade. He wasn’t handing out any guarantees that Cobb would be introduced on opening day.

Subtracting Cobb the starter is going to bring payroll relief. Whether or not that’s a driving force in trade discussions is unknown, but is going to be assumed with the Orioles rebuilding.

The rotation competition now has room for two winners. Pencil in John Means, Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer, and the rest plays out in Sarasota, Fla.

Jorge López, left-hander Bruce Zimmermann, Thomas Eshelman - re-signed to a minor league deal - and Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells would appear to benefit most from Cobb’s exit.

It’s likely too soon for Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alexander Wells, added to the 40-man roster to protect them in the Rule 5 draft.

Elias is attempting to sign one or two veteran starters and has major league offers on the table. He also could go the minor league route, as he did last year with Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone.

César Valdez is starting for Águilas Cibaeñas in the Caribbean World Series, but manager Brandon Hyde seems drawn to the veteran’s ability to handle multiple roles in the bullpen.

Of course, that was true while Cobb remained in the rotation.

The Angels didn’t surrender pitching in this trade, which is done and awaiting approval from the commissioner’s office. The Orioles will receive outfielder-turned-second baseman Jahmai Jones, 23, a former second-round draft pick who ranked among the Angels’ top prospects.

Jones’ father, Andre, and brother, T.J., played in the National Football League. Andre was a linebacker at DeMatha Catholic and Notre Dame who died in 2011 of a brain aneurysm. T.J. and brother Malachi are wide receivers - the latter in the Canadian Football League.

Reporting on the Cobb signing was one of the more interesting and taxing activities in my years on the beat. In large part due to the silence coming from team sources.

The Orioles worked hard to plug any leaks, which kept local media in the dark under the Florida sun. It wasn’t until after national reporters began sharing details that I was able to pass along the length of the contract and how it contained deferred money.

My only contributions beyond getting confirmation on other components.

One text to a source brought the following response: “Sorry, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy.” I swore after reading it.

I kept tracking talks with another veteran pitcher, Lance Lynn, who eventually took a one-year, $12 million deal with the Twins. I heard that the Orioles offered Cobb a fourth year in order to reach an agreement, and that former executive Brady Anderson was involved in negotiations.

The Orioles already had signed Chris Tillman and Andrew Cashner.

(They also signed outfielder Colby Rasmus and infielder Pedro Álvarez and acquired catcher Andrew Susac from the Brewers. The results were less than favorable.)

Cobb is extremely disappointed that he hasn’t been able to give the Orioles a solid return on their $57 million investment - the largest for a pitcher in franchise history. He’s talked about it on numerous occasions and he’s sincere.

The late signing in 2018 and the rush to get ready definitely hurt him. Then came the spring training injury in 2019 that led to hip and knee surgeries. And the craziness of 2020 with camps shut down and started again in July.

I asked Cobb in December about being a trade chip and Elias’ apparent preference to keep him.

“Honestly, you telling me is the first I have heard or thought about the trade,” he replied. “I haven’t even asked my agents about it, which is odd because I have been more involved and had more questions that I wanted answered earlier on in my career, and even last year during the season I’d be more interested. I don’t know why I haven’t had that urge to know. Maybe because there’s so much uncertainty with everything going on.

“I think I saw how fragile baseball is and your career in general could be this year that I’m more just thankful to be playing right now and I don’t get caught up in all the smaller things that go along with it. Not that they’re small, but it’s not the big-picture things that I’m focused on right now and I’m just very focused on getting back to where I want to be in my career and taking care of my business and then leaving other people to their own business and trusting that Mike is going to do what’s best for the organization.

“If he finds a deal that helps the Orioles, he’s going to do that. As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t paid as much attention to it.”

Cobb was busy receiving input from instructors at Driveline Baseball, the data-driven performance center, after an earlier meeting that marked the first of his career. Trying something different at 33.

Here’s what stays the same with Cobb: He’s one of the nicest guys in baseball, the kind that teams and media want in the clubhouse.

Tampa reporters passed along their scouting reports after Cobb signed with the Orioles. And he showed it on his first day at the Ed Smith Stadium complex, talking to the media outside the baseball operations building and then happily agreeing to a separate interview with MASN and the repetition that couldn’t be avoided.

We made the walk together to the stadium, where the camera was set up, and I thanked him for doing it on such a hectic day. He insisted that he was totally fine with the request and asked about me during our brief chat that confirmed everything I heard.

A good guy who wishes he had been a better pitcher for the Orioles.

One of our interviews took place in the summer of 2019 while I stood outside the men’s room at a Charleston, S.C., bar. Cobb called me and I paused my vacation in order to ask about his recovery from hip surgery and the pending knee procedure, which he hadn’t shared until that day.

Now I can’t think of Cobb without picturing how I paced back and force in that area of the bar, glancing at framed photos on the wall and wondering if patrons were curious about my conversation. And thanking Emily for her patience as she sipped her drink and waited for me.

It was her vacation, too.

Note: In case you missed it yesterday, outfielder/first baseman Chris Shaw cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. The Orioles designated him for assignment to clear 40-man space for shortstop Freddy Galvis.

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