When asked about possibly dealing right-handed starting pitcher Alex Cobb before or during the 2021 season, Orioles executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias made it sound like he does not expect that to happen.
“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 last week.
The assumption has mostly been that Cobb is exactly a player the Orioles would consider trading. His contract is hefty for them, at $15 million for next season. It’s the last year of his deal and as the team gets younger, it may look to trade veterans nearing the end of bigger-dollar deals.
But then Elias provided some reasons why Cobb might be worth hanging onto through the 2021 season.
Cobb probably had a better year in 2020 than you might think. He went 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA. But he gave up 56 percent of his season total earned runs allowed (14 of 25) in three starts. In the other seven, he allowed two earned runs or less each time. He started well, going 1-1 with a 2.61 in his first four starts. And ended well, going 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA over his last two games.
He ate more innings than any of the 10 pitchers the Orioles used as starters last year. He averaged 5.23 innings per start which led the club, and he was the only O’s starter to average five or more innings.
Cobb can veto a trade to 10 teams. That doesn’t mean there is no way he would go to those clubs, but if one of those teams truly wants him they may have to sweeten his contract. And while Elias said the O’s plan on keeping him all year, plans can change.
“He is coming up on his last year of his deal with the Orioles,” said Elias. “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.”
The Orioles went 5-5 in Cobb’s starts in 2020. As a team, they finished 11th in the American League in rotation ERA (yes, I know, 60 games not 162) at 5.09, which was their best since 4.72 in 2016.
For now, the Orioles seem very comfortable with this veteran leader at the top of their rotation, or at worst, their No. 2 behind John Means.