This off-season, there have been incessant trade rumors involving Tampa Bay Rays starting pitchers, and the team that has been connected with the Rays most often in these rumors has been the Chicago Cubs. During the Winter Meetings, we even heard specific rumblings of a potential swap involving Alex Cobb and Javier Baez.
The Rays need young hitters, and trading Cobb for Baez or Jorge Soler would accomplish this, but getting either of them for Cobb alone is not going to happen.
Cobb certainly has his appeal to the Cubs. The obvious Joe Maddon connection notwithstanding, he has compiled a 3.21 career ERA and would join Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey to form a formidable rotation. Plus, at 28 years old, he is still in the middle of his prime.
That said, Cobb is coming off of Tommy John surgery and will not be back in action until June or July at the earliest.
Even then, you have to consider that he has not thrown a regular-season pitch since 2014 and will likely have some rust to shake off upon his return (as Rays fans have learned with Matt Moore).
On top of that, he is only controllable through the 2017 season, giving him less time to re-establish himself before his free agency. That's only a year and a half of value even if he does come back strong from day one.
As such, the Cubs would have little reason to give up a controllable big-league-ready youngster like Baez or Soler for Cobb. Instead, if there is a deal to be made, Chicago might consider giving up prospects for Cobb. Meanwhile, the Rays clock is ticking if they want to deal their ailing ace.
But if a Cubs deal isn't there to be had, the good news is that they have plenty of desirable pieces that the Rays could target.
The biggest glut of depth the Cubs have in their stacked system comes in the outfield. Billy McKinney, Albert Almora and Ian Happ all are among the club's best prospects. Even beyond that, names like Mark Zagunis, Eloy Jimenez and Donnie Dewees all have their share of upside.
Happ could be particularly intriguing after being taken ninth overall in last year's draft. A switch-hitter who has an above-average hit tool and at least average power, he could be a quick-to-the-bigs type of prospect. He fits well in the corners and is athletic enough to play center field in a pinch and also played some second base in college.
The Rays could also target McKinney, who shows off a smooth left-handed swing and an advanced plate approach. A great feel for the game helps him be a good defender in the corner outfield despite speed that is only average.
Another interesting target could be catcher Wilson Contreras. A bit of a late bloomer, Contreras has a feel to hit and average power that should translate well in the big leagues. He is a bit raw defensively, but ultimately he could be the everyday catcher the Rays have been looking for ever since Dioner Navarro's All-Star season in 2008.
There are certainly plenty of targets for the Rays and many different scenarios one could envision in a Cobb-for-prospects deal. Something like Cobb for Happ, Contreras and a low-level throw-in might make sense for both clubs.
First and foremost, the Rays would love to have Baez, and that seems to be where their attention has been so far in talks with the Cubs. However, getting Baez, or even Soler, for an unhealthy Cobb is likely unrealistic.
Instead, the Cubs have plenty of intriguing upper-level prospects, and it would make sense for the Rays to explore a swap of this nature. Maybe that's why this trade has taken so long.