Alex Cobb had been poised to take on the long term role of Rays ace; however, injuries - some freak (like getting smacked in the head by an Eric Hosmer line drive in 2013), and some all too predictable (the UCL tear that lead to 2015 Tommy John surgery and cost him most of two seasons) -- have prevented him from reaching that potential.
His return to pitching this past September was a mixed bag, with a strong performance against the Blue Jays followed by several poor outings. While it was encouraging to see that his velocity was around his career norms, Cobb’s ability to return to form remains a question mark. As he enters his last year of team control, no doubt the Rays would be open to trade him.
Estimating Market Value for Cobb
It’s hard to find good comps for Cobb, given both his talent and the durability concerns that are likely to dog him.
The Cardinal’s recent trade of the oft-injured Jaime Garcia to the Braves provides possible glimpse into the current market price for pitching — but Garcia is older, more expensive, and has less sustained success than Cobb. In return for Garcia, St. Louis received three of the Braves top-30 prospects in RHP John Gant, RHP, and 2B Luke Dykstra. The acquired pitchers project to be back of the rotation starters and Dykstra is more of a fringe prospect at this point.
The Rays could elect to go the same route by targeting prospects or by finding some help for the major league squad that is seeking to be competitive this year. Some suggestions follow, with prospect rankings from MLB.com.
Possible Alex Cobb Trade Packages
Cubs: OF Mark Zagunis & RHP Bailey Clark
According to reports, Chicago is one of several teams expressing interest in former San Diego starting pitcher Tyson Ross after declining Jason Hammel’s $12 million option this offseason. While the Cubs were once thought to be comfortable with Mike Montgomery transitioning to the rotation, this rumor suggests they may be looking for a stronger option (or depth in the event he falters). Cobb was linked to the Cubs last off season, and is a cheaper alternative to Ross who is also beset with injury questions.
In this deal, the Rays land on-base machine Mark Zagunis (Cubs #5), who boasts a .401 OBP over his minor league career. Zagunis’ power is a bit underwhelming with just 10 homers last season, but he projects to hit around a .270 clip making him a valuable asset moving forward. Although he could use more seasoning at AAA, a summer promotion is completely feasible if the Rays are in contention.
Additionally, the Cubs would send a fringe prospect in Bailey Clark (Cubs #30). Clark’s fastball has nearly reached triple digits but mechanical issues ultimately limit his future to the bullpen. That’s just fine for the Rays, who are in the market for long term assets that fit a bullpen projection.
Rangers: OF Ryan Rua, 3B/OF Kole Enright, & RHP Pedro Payano
Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star tweeted that the Rangers have discussed Alex Cobb with Tampa Bay, but he didn’t divulge any possible targets for the Rays. Since the Rangers are primed to compete this season, they likely wouldn’t part with any of their crop of talented relief pitchers, which leaves prospects and/or outfield depth as a possible return.
Since the Carlos Gomez resigning has rendered Ryan Rua expendable, he’s a useful target for a trade. He isn’t anything spectacular but a wRC+ of 106 against lefties in his career could provide the Rays with a possible platoon mate for Corey Dickerson (albeit not as appealing as some other free agent options) or at the very least, another bat off the bench.
A more intriguing piece in this deal for the Rays is the 18 year old Kole Enright (Rangers #26). He was originally slated to join the defending NCAA World Series Champions, Coastal Carolina, this season but he struggled during his junior season of high school and lost his scholarship. In his senior season, Enright responded to doubters well enough to garner a third round selection in the MLB draft. He has a decent bat with some pop, but it’s defensive versatility that gives him the projection to be a major league contributor one day (ETA 2020).
The last piece is Pedro Payano (#18), but it could be any unheralded pitching prospect headed the Rays way. At Low A last season, Payano posted a 2.91 FIP providing some hope that he’ll develop into a back of the rotation starter.
Mariners: 1B/3B DJ Peterson
By all accounts, Seattle is pushing to bolster their rotation after shipping out Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks for Jean Segura, which makes them a prime trade partner for the Rays.
Former first rounder DJ Peterson (Mariners #7), might be a good target for Erik Neader. He struggled some against AAA pitching in 2016 but his .329 wOBA gives reason for optimism. Furthermore, his grade 60 power suggest he could be the prototypical DH Tampa is looking for as soon as this season if he can put on a strong showcase this spring, something Seattle has in spades at the minor league level.
Seattle might also need to include a fringe prospect, but Peterson is a big enough piece that not much else is warranted in a Cobb deal.
Pirates: 2B/OF Alen Hanson & RHP Nick Kingham
Despite the interest, the Bucs just can’t seem to strike a deal with Ivan Nova, and even if they do, Pittsburgh has holes in the rotation. The fellow small market team has already been linked as a possible trade partner for the Rays and their propensity for reclamation projects further accentuates the fit. It’s true that the Pirates are always hesitant to move their big time prospects, but a deep farm system features some short term and long term options for the Rays.
Both Nick Kingham (Pirates #10) and Alen Hanson (#13) once ranked as top-100 prospects before injuries derailed the former and inconsistency the latter. This past season Kingham made 10 starts in his return from Tommy John surgery and seems to still possess a solid floor with the command and arsenal to stick in a major league rotation. He’d be great organizational depth for the Rays or an option down the line.
Although Hanson reached the majors last season as a utility player, he doesn’t play anywhere Adam Frazier does not, and the Bucs appear to enigmatically like Frazier more. Hanson’s only plus tool is his speed that helped him steal more than 30 bases each of the last two seasons, but he’s major league ready and would slide in as a solid utility option/outfield depth for the Rays.
Alex Cobb undoubtedly has injury concerns, but there’s no need for the Rays to accept a low ball offer.
By keeping Cobb, the Rays could take a low risk-high reward gamble that he returns to form to help propel them up the American League ladder. And if the Rays fail to return to contention at mid-season, a few solid months from Cobb could make him an attractive deadline deal.
Trading Cobb now is therefore less likely, but should a deal in line with the above materialize, it may be hard for the Rays to say no.