- The Orioles will carry righty Pedro Araujo to begin the season, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com was among those to tweet. He only has made one appearance north of the High-A level in the Cubs organization, but was awfully impressive there in 2017. In 64 2/3 innings over 44 apperances, he allowed just 13 earned runs on 42 hits while racking up 83 strikeouts against 17 walks. Araujo kept that output going in the Arizona Fall League and into the Grapefruit League, so the O’s — who frequently utilize the Rule 5 process — will see if he can take it another big step forward in the majors.
- Before Alex Cobb signed with the Orioles, “the Padres got involved late on” the free agent righty’s market. It would’ve been another eye-popping move for a team that surprised many by signing Eric Hosmer, though the Padres could’ve simply been doing some due diligence — Cobb likely drew interest from several seemingly-unlikely teams as he continued to languish on the open market. The Padres also had at least some interest in Jake Arrieta, another big-name free agent starter who was still unexpectedly available into March. Given A.J. Preller’s penchant for aggressive moves and the Padres’ prospect depth, I wouldn’t be surprised if San Diego made a big in-season trade to further kickstart its rebuilding process.
- Even with Cobb now in the fold, the Orioles may still look to add more starting pitching depth beyond their current starting five of Cobb, Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Cashner, and Chris Tillman. Heyman opines that Scott Feldman could be a possibility, as the righty “was beloved” by members of the Baltimore organization during his previous stint with the club in 2013.
- Trade buzz continues to circle Astros right-hander Collin McHugh, as Heyman writes that McHugh “could be had in a trade,” as Houston has a surplus of rotation-worthy arms. The Twins and Orioles were both linked to McHugh in rumors earlier this winter, though those teams are probably no longer in the running due to their subsequent pitching additions. McHugh is owed $5MM this season and is under control through 2019 in his final arbitration-eligible season, making him a nice cost-effective addition for potential suitors.
- The Mets haven’t seriously discussed the possibility of signing Ubaldo Jimenez, Heyman hears from a person connected with the team. The past relationship between Jimenez and Mets manager Mickey Callaway (Jimenez had a strong 2013 season with the Indians when Callaway was Cleveland’s pitching coach) led to some rumors that New York could consider adding the veteran right-hander as rotation depth. Jimenez is coming off rough seasons in both 2016 and 2017 with the Orioles, and as a result has drawn no known interest all winter as he tries to catch on with another club.
Phillies utilityman Ryan Flaherty plans to opt out of his minor league contract, Todd Zolecki of MLB.com tweets. The Phillies will have 48 hours to add Flaherty to their 25-man roster or let him go. Odds are that they’ll grant him his release, per Zolecki. The 31-year-old Flaherty was a member of the Orioles from 2012-17, and Baltimore reportedly made an attempt to keep him before he joined the Phillies. Now, he could head back to the O’s, Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com suggests.
The Orioles officially signed Alex Cobb on Wednesday, but they weren’t serious suitors for him as of February because his asking price was too high, Dan Connolly of BaltimoreBaseball.com hears. But Cobb told Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun and other reporters Wednesday: “They didn’t stop bothering me the whole offseason. They were very persistent, and I think that you notice that confidence they have in you just by the way they speak to you, and the questions they ask and not questioning anything that’s gone on.” The Orioles’ insistence on signing Cobb came from John and Lou Angelos, sons of owner Peter Angelos, according to Connolly, who reports that the duo recently made “a hard push” to add the right-hander, who landed a four-year, $57MM deal.
TODAY, 5:03pm: Heyman has the layout of Cobb’s contract (Twitter link). He’ll make $14MM in each year from 2018-2020, including $6.5MM deferred without interest this season and $4.5MM deferred without interest in both ’19 and ’20. Cobb will earn $15MM in 2021 and either $4.75MM deferred without interest or $9.75MM deferred without interest, if he throws fewer than 130 innings. If he amasses 180 innings in any of those seasons, he’ll rake in an extra $500K.
9:38am: Cobb has passed the notoriously stringent Orioles’ physical, Heyman tweets, making the deal official. It has also been announced by the organization.
The deal includes a no-trade provision, Heyman adds on Twitter. Cobb picks up full no-trade rights until this coming November and will be able to block deals to ten clubs from that point forward.
There’ll be $20MM in deferred money, Kubatko tweets, though the precise manner of the structure has yet to be reported. When that’s factored in, the present-day value of the deal is $47MM, he adds, though that is a number that’s certainly subject to quite a bit of interpretation. Every multi-year deal, after all, includes future obligations that can be discounted to a lump-sum current dollar amount, and the math is dependent upon what approach is utilized to perform the discount.
YESTERDAY, 9:19PM: Cobb and the Orioles have agreed that he’ll begin the season in the minors for a brief spell in order to get properly stretched out, BaltimoreBaseball.com’s Dan Connolly reports. Cobb had enough service time to refuse a minor league assignment even though he has an option remaining, though obviously both sides felt a short stint on the farm was necessary.
6:06PM: The Orioles have agreed to sign right-hander Alex Cobb, with FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reporting (Twitter link) that the two sides had worked out a four-year deal believed to be worth close to $60MM. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reported earlier today that there was “a strong belief” that Cobb was close to a contract, with the Orioles considered to be the favorite. The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (Twitter links) confirmed the link between Cobb and the O’s, and noted that the deal will be official once Cobb passes a physical, while MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko was the first to report that the deal was a four-year agreement. Cobb is represented by the Beverly Hills Sports Council.
Cobb was long seen as a natural fit for the Orioles given their severe need for starting pitching, and the team indeed reportedly expressed interest in Cobb quite early in the offseason. While it wasn’t necessarily a surprise to see the two sides end up in an agreement, however, there are some eyebrow-raising elements to this signing given the size and length of the contract.
As Passan noted, Cobb has been holding out for a multi-year deal, as opposed to the one-year contracts that several notable players were forced to settle for in recent weeks due to the unprecedented lack of activity in the free agent market. Lance Lynn, for instance, was Cobb’s closest comparable on the open market and Lynn wound up signing a one-year, $12MM deal with the Twins. Lynn, however, was also in talks with the Orioles and potentially left a longer-term offer on the table in order to sign with Minnesota, believing that the Twins had a better shot at contending in 2018.
Lynn’s rejection could have been what inspired the Orioles to give Cobb four years to solidify its rotation, as it was believed that the club was no longer willing to go beyond a three-year contract for a pitcher in the wake of the disastrous Ubaldo Jimenez signing. Furthermore, the organization has long been very particular about signing veteran pitchers due to injury concerns, so it represents a bold step for owner Peter Angelos to sign off the biggest pitcher contract in franchise history for Cobb, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2015. (It’s worth noting that the O’s have changed or even abandoned agreements in the past due to concerns about pitcher health, so Cobb’s physical probably represents a bigger final hurdle than usual in most player signings.)
While many free agents left this winter’s market feeling short-changed, Cobb ended up finding his desired four-year guarantee and a very healthy salary. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Cobb 11th on our list of the winter’s top 50 free agents, and projected him for a four-year, $48MM deal. Heyman reports that Cobb rejected an offer of that exact size from the Cubs earlier this winter, and despite the free agent deep freeze, eventually landed a more lucrative deal.
[Updated Orioles depth chart at Roster Resource]
It may be too close to Opening Day for Cobb to be ready for the very beginning of the season, though when he is set, the 30-year-old could very well be the ace of Baltimore’s rotation. The O’s went into the offseason with only Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy established in the starting five, and were in talks about a wide variety of free agent and trade possibilities. Executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette has developed a pattern of late-winter signings during his time in Baltimore, and he stuck to that strategy again this year to rebuild his rotation, signing Andrew Cashner, re-signing Chris Tillman, and now adding Cobb within the last five weeks.
Cobb provides Baltimore with a solid, AL East-tested arm who looked to be front-of-the-rotation material in 2013-14 before getting his TJ surgery in 2015. The procedure cost Cobb all of that season and limited him to just five starts in 2016, though he rebounded for a 3.66 ERA, 6.4 K/9, and 2.91 K/BB rate over 179 1/3 innings for the Rays last season. The post-surgery version of Cobb is striking out fewer batters than the pre-2015 Cobb, and his already-middling swinging strike rate took another drop to just 6.7% last season, plus his 36.9% hard-hit ball rate was a career high.
These concerns notwithstanding, it should be noted that Cobb pitched better as the season wore on, which is a good sign that he could fully back to his old self. Even the 2017 version of Cobb would represent a big upgrade for the Orioles over fifth starter candidates such as Mike Wright, Nestor Cortes Jr. or Miguel Castro. The O’s now face some roster-shuffling questions with these arms (Wright is out of options and Cortes is a Rule 5 pick), though they could all possibly be used in the bullpen.
Needless to say, this surplus of arms is now an unexpectedly good problem to have for an Orioles team that has positioned itself to stay competitive within a tough AL East. The length of Cobb’s deal also indicates that the O’s aren’t planning for a rebuild after 2018. Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach will all be free agents next winter (plus Duquette and manager Buck Showalter are entering their last year under contract), though Baltimore now has Cobb, Gausman, Bundy, Trey Mancini, Mychal Givens, and Chris Davis as core pieces through at least the 2020 season, plus prospects like Austin Hays and Chance Sisco.
Since Cobb rejected a qualifying offer from the Rays, the O’s will have to surrender their third-highest pick (51st overall) in the 2018 amateur draft, as they were a revenue-sharing recipient that didn’t exceed the luxury tax threshold. Because Cobb received more than $50MM in guaranteed money, the Rays are now in line to receive a compensation pick after the first round of the draft. This will actually be one of two picks for Tampa Bay in the “sandwich round,” as the Rays are also slated for a compensatory pick for not signing 31st-overall pick Drew Rasmussen in last year’s draft class.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images
Mesa, 24, was the last of three pitchers taken by the Baltimore organization in the most recent Rule 5 draft. Obtaining his rights in full from the Yankees would have required that the O’s carry him for all of the upcoming season on the active roster. Now, unless his Rule 5 rights are either traded for or claimed off waivers, Mesa will be offered back to the Yanks.
The young hurler obviously showed enough to draw interest from the Orioles after being left unprotected. In 84 innings at the High-A and Double-A levels last year, he allowed just 18 earned runs on 48 hits and 32 walks while recording 101 strikeouts. But it seems he’ll need some more seasoning before trying out the majors. Mesa struggled in his chances this spring, recording five strikeouts and seven walks in 7 2/3 innings.
After watching a variety of quality free agents settle for shorter and less-lucrative contracts than expected — including established veteran starter Lance Lynn — it seemed that right-hander Alex Cobb would likewise need to take what he could get and plan to return to the open market in the near future in search of a heftier pact. Instead, he struck a surprising four-year, $57MM deal yesterday with the Orioles.
Of course, that contract wouldn’t have seemed out of line when the offseason got underway. MLBTR tabbed Cobb the 11th-best free agent available and predicted he’d secure a four-year contract with a $48MM guarantee — not far off from where he ultimately landed. But we also guessed four and $56MM for Lynn, who got just $12MM from the Twins despite signing a few weeks before Cobb and carrying a broadly similar overall profile in terms of age and track record. And when we reexamined the market before Lynn’s signing, we downgraded expectations for both hurlers.
Needless to say, this winter’s market has been something of a moving target. At the end of the day, though, Cobb will land a sizable but generally market-rate deal with an organization that came into the winter as perhaps the most pitching-needy would-be contender in baseball. If the deal is finalized, Cobb will join Andrew Cashner and the re-signed Chris Tillman as free-agent additions to a staff that already featured Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
There are still questions up and down that five-man crew, but the overall talent base on the pitching staff is quite a bit higher now than at the outset of the offseason. One can argue that the O’s ought not to have made a commitment of this magnitude entering the organization’s final season of control over Manny Machado and Adam Jones. On the other hand, it’s hard to condemn a club for spending to win, especially when so many others are focusing on the future. And while the Cobb contract hardly seems a bargain, it’s roughly in range of his market value and arguably delivers some upside given Cobb’s history as a top-of-the-rotation presence. He was, after all, one of the most effective starters in the AL East in 2013-14 and delivered 179 1/3 innings of 3.66 ERA pitching in 2017.
How would you grade the move from the team’s perspective? (Link for app users.)
- Manny Machado’s move back to shortstop was inspired by his love for the position, the Orioles star tells ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, not as a way to better position himself for free agency next winter. “I think a lot of people are saying, ’He’s going over there because he wants more money or more value.’ It doesn’t come down to money or more value,” Machado said. “I’ve already established myself as a player. I’m worth what I’m worth already. It doesn’t matter if I’m at short or third. The transition over there is because that’s where my heart is. That’s what I do.” Machado’s preparation for the position switch included changes to his diet and offseason training regimen, and scouts have given promising early reviews about Machado’s defensive prowess at shortstop.
5:50PM: If completed, the deal would be a four-year pact, according to MASNsports.com’s Roch Kubatko (Twitter link).
5:19PM: Rosenthal hears from a source that a deal is indeed close, though the three-year/$50MM terms from Rosenthal’s previous report are “not accurate.”
4:39PM: Right-hander Alex Cobb’s long stay in the free agent market could be nearing an end, as Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link) “there’s a strong belief that” Cobb is closing in on a new contract. The Orioles are considered by most to be the favorites to sign the 30-year-old, according to Passan, and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter) reports that the deal between the two sides is expected to be at least a three-year pact. Rosenthal adds that the O’s and Cobb had been discussing contracts in the range of three years and $50MM.
Cobb and the O’s have been linked for much of the offseason, as the righty was a natural fit for a Baltimore team that entered the winter with a dire need for pitching. The Orioles have already turned to free agency to sign Andrew Cashner and re-sign Chris Tillman, with those two veterans slotting in behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy in the rotation. Cobb would not only be a decided upgrade over current fifth starter candidates Mike Wright, Nestor Cortes Jr., and Miguel Castro, but the argument could be made that Cobb would be the best starter on Baltimore’s entire staff.
As Passan noted, Cobb has been holding out for a multi-year deal, as opposed to the one-year contracts that several notable players (i.e. Lance Lynn, Mike Moustakas, Carlos Gonzalez, Jonathan Lucroy, Logan Morrison, Neil Walker) have been forced to settle for in recent weeks due to the unprecedented lack of activity in the free agent market. Given this environment, a deal in the $50MM neighborhood would be a particularly nice result for Cobb and his representatives at the Beverly Hills Sports Council. That would actually be higher than the $48MM MLB Trade Rumors predicted Cobb would receive when we ranked him 11th on our list of the winter’s top 50 free agents, though we projected that $48MM to come over a four-year contract.
- The Orioles optioned Austin Wynns to Triple-A today, as reported by MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli and others. Wynns had been competing with Andrew Susac and Chance Sisco for the secondary catcher role, as Caleb Joseph is in line for the bulk of playing time behind the plate. Sisco is ranked by both MLB.com and Baseball America as the third-best prospect in Baltimore’s system, and has long been considered the Orioles’ catcher of the future. With that in mind, however, the O’s may prefer to keep Sisco in the minors for now in order to give him everyday at-bats rather than limit him to a part-time role.
- As also noted in Ghiroli’s piece, Chris Davis made his return to the Orioles’ lineup today after a two-week absence due to a forearm injury. Davis is tentatively scheduled to play in a minor league game tomorrow, assuming he feels ready to go. Despite losing a good chunk of the spring to the injury, Davis is still expected to be ready for Opening Day.