9:54am: The two teams are indeed in talks on the trade, though MLB.com’s Joe Trezza tweets that it’s not yet close to completion. Talks still “seem to be trending in the right direction,” per MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko.
9:20am: The Angels and Orioles are working out a trade to send right-hander Alex Cobb from Baltimore to Anaheim, Dan Connolly and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic report (via Twitter). Details are still being finalized, Connolly adds. The Orioles are surely including some cash to offset a portion of the $15MM that Cobb is owed under the final season of his four-year, $57MM contract with the O’s. That deal contains a 10-team no-trade clause, but the Angels either aren’t on it or Cobb is willing to waive it to move to a more competitive club.
Cobb signed late in the 2017-18 offseason, inking his surprising four-year pact with the O’s on March 21, when Spring Training was nearing its completion. He didn’t make his team debut until April 14 that year, but even with some extra time to tune up, it appeared that the lack of a full Spring Training was tough on Cobb, who was tagged for 17 runs on 30 hits in his first three starts.
From that point forth, Cobb largely righted the ship, pitching to a respectable 4.22 ERA from May through season’s end. Cobb’s strikeout percentage was nowhere near what it’d been at his best in Tampa Bay, however, and that remains the case today. A back injury torpedoed Cobb’s 2019 season, but he returned in 2020 to make 10 starts with a 4.30 ERA (4.65 SIERA), a 16.8 percent strikeout rate and an eight percent walk rate.
Cobb’s recent strikeout rates are well south of the league average, and last year’s eight percent walk rate was his highest since his rookie year back in 2011. His Statcast profile doesn’t paint a particularly favorable picture, as his hard-hit rate and average opponents’ exit velocity were among the highest marks of any pitcher in the league. Cobb’s 54.5 percent ground-ball rate is encouraging, though — particularly when considering that he’d be playing in front of a strong infield defense in Anaheim (Anthony Rendon, Jose Iglesias, David Fletcher).
Certainly, Cobb isn’t the top-of-the-rotation starter that most believe the Angels need, but the cost of acquisition here is likely to be relatively small, and he’ll give the Halos another able-bodied arm to soak up some innings. Teams need far more than five starters to get through a 162-game season under normal circumstances, and that reality will be amplified exponentially in 2021 after last year’s shortened schedule truncated every Major League pitcher’s workload.
Cobb joins Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Griffin Canning, Jose Quintana, Shohei Ohtani, Jaime Barria and Patrick Sandoval as rotation options on the 40-man roster for the Angels. It’s likely that everyone from that bunch will get some starts, and it’s worth wondering whether the Angels will consider a six-man rotation given their bulk approach to their rotation composition. That will be determined by new general manager Perry Minasian and manager Joe Maddon, the latter of whom is plenty familiar with Cobb after managing the first several seasons of his career with the Rays.
For the Orioles, subtracting Cobb from an already suspect rotation thins out the depth and, more importantly in ownership’s eyes, scales back the payroll. Even with Cobb on the books, the Orioles’ payroll sat at just $64MM, but this deal could drop them below the $60MM mark, depending on how the financial details are sorted out.
If Cobb indeed departs, left-hander John Means would be the only lock for the Baltimore rotation. Younger options like Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer seem likely to be given the opportunity to earn Opening Day spots, and the Orioles have several potential rotation pieces on their 40-man roster: Bruce Zimmerman, Jorge Lopez, Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, Alexander Wells.
General manager Mike Elias spoke recently about the possibility of signing a veteran starting pitcher, and the need for depth is only further underscored by the trade of the team’s most experienced starter. It’s likely that whoever the Orioles bring in will command less in terms of salary than whatever sum the Orioles are saving in the Cobb deal.
Last year, Elias filled out the rotation by signing Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone to non-guaranteed deals that eventually paid them less than $1MM apiece upon earning roster spots in Spring Training. It’s plausible, if not likely, that the Orioles will take a similar approach in the weeks ahead.