3 best fits for Alex Cobb in free agency

Alex Cobb has spent his entire major league career with the Tampa Bay Rays, but this winter, he’s a free agent. Cobb is testing the free agency waters for the first time in his career, and while he’s not what one would call a big-ticket free agent, he’s still valuable. Plenty of teams need a solid starter but won’t break the bank — Cobb fits the bill. He’s also younger than some of the other more expensive free agents such as Yu Darvish and Jake Arietta, which makes him an attractive target. MLB Trade Rumors sees Cobb getting a four-year deal worth $48M. The site also sees him landing with the Minnesota Twins. More on that later.

The 30-year-old righty had a solid 2017, finishing with a 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in a career-high 179 1/3 innings. He also set a career high in starts with 29. The problem in the past with Cobb has been health. In 2011, one of his ribs caused a blood clot and after a start in early August, he had surgery to repair the clot and another surgery to remove the rib. Those surgeries ended his 2011 season.

He was the victim of a fluke injury in June of 2013, when he was hit in the head with a line drive off the bat of Eric Hosmer. He missed two months. In 2015, he tore his UCL which required Tommy John surgery. He returned to the Rays in September of 2016 and made five starts. He was durable in 2017, and while he wasn’t as strong statistically as he was before Tommy John surgery, he’s definitely trending in the right direction.

Cobb is a ground-ball pitcher but not a true strikeout pitcher. In 2017, his sinker became his number one pitch followed by his curveball. He almost completely abandoned his four-seam fastball. While was throwing his splitter 23 percent of the time in April, by September, it was down to five percent. Cobb also doesn’t walk a lot of batters. His walk rate was 5.9 percent and he finished 2017 with a 2.21 BB/9. He did have a home run problem, allowing 22 in 2017, which was a career high, but a change of scenery and playing home games outdoors will do Cobb some good.

Let’s look at the three teams who should take a flier on Cobb.

  • Texas Rangers

The Rangers did not have a good 2017. They had to trade ace Yu Darvish at the trade deadline and finished a distant third in the American League West Division with an 78-84 record. Now, they are in the market for starting pitching and Cobb is someone they’ve already looked into. According to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas and Tampa Bay nearly made a trade involving Cobb last offseason, so it’s only natural they’d want to pursue him now that he’s a free agent. As I said above, he’s not an expensive free agent, so the Rangers, who are operating on a tighter budget, can afford him.

Plus, with his sinker and his tendency to induce ground balls, Cobb would be the right type of pitcher in Globe Life Park, where the ball carries in the Texas summer heat. Of course, this all hinges on whether his numbers improve upon last year’s and if he doesn’t surrender as many home runs; it could be a disaster.

  • Minnesota Twins

Another team that has been linked to the right-hander and could be a good fit are the Twins. MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Cobb would be signed by the Twins but didn’t give any reasons why.

Here are a couple: Adding Cobb to their rotation would make the Twins a better team, and the Twins were already a big surprise in 2017. They won the second wild card spot but lost to the Yankees in the wild card game. No one expected that. Cobb could help an already surprising team get even better. Another reason is the same as with every other team: He’s not expensive.

  • Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are losing both the aforementioned Arietta and John Lackey to free agency, so signing Cobb seems like a smart thing to do. Sure, he’s not an ace, but the Cubs don’t need one. They already have Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Kyle Hendricks. The addition of Cobb would shore up an already solid rotation. Another positive of a possible signing with Chicago would be a reunion with former manager Joe Maddon and former pitching coach Joe Hickey, who worked with Cobb during the first four years of his career in Tampa. Plus, Hickey appeared on Chicago Sports Radio this week and already endorsed Cobb.

“I would trust the arm 100 percent, especially because he did miss the time that he missed,” Hickey said. “He’s a 30-year-old pitcher who’s probably sat on the shelf … flirting for three seasons. The usage is minimal for a 30-year-old type of pitcher. What he did with basically two pitches in the American League East last year was remarkable, incredible really.”

(Numbers courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball)

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