Although Alex Cobb is a native of Boston, MA, he attended Vero Beach HS and was drafted out of that school by the Rays in the 4th round of the 2006 draft -- the same draft that saw the Rays take Evan Longoria 3rd overall. Instead of attending Clemson, where he had committed to before the draft, he signed with the Rays for $400,000 and the rest is history.
There was a time thereafter where Alex Cobb was thought of as the very best pitcher in the AL East. After the completion of his third double-digit win season in a row, when he managed a 2.8 WAR rating, Peter Gammons posted the following to Twitter:
If Tanaka isn't fully healthy, the only legit no. 1,starter in the AL East is Alex Cobb— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) December 11, 2014
And Gammons wasn’t alone in thinking that. MLB Network’s Top 100 Players rankings pre-2015 placed Alex Cobb 77th overall, ahead of Jake Arrieta, Justin Verlander, and Gerrit Cole, to name a few. He was on his way to being a major part of the Rays winning ways before injury struck, and Tommy John surgery forced him to where things stand today. So great was his reputation before the injury that the Rays nearly flipped Cobb to the Cubs for Javier Baez, before Chicago (let’s face it, wisely) got cold feet.
Now that the injury is behind him, the main questions are these: can he return to his dominant ways, can he do so for a full season, and who will be willing to pay enough to grab him from the Rays assuming they decide to move him?
Alex Cobb: Return to Dominant Ways
When examining his 2016 season, it’s important to note a few things. First, he took his time and didn’t rush through the process. The fact that he didn’t make it to MLB until September points to this, allowing us to consider him slightly less risky overall. The second thing to consider is that despite not throwing more than 4 innings in any minor league start, he threw 5 innings, 6 innings, and 6.2 innings in his first 3 MLB starts.
And the competition wasn’t too bad either. We’re talking 2 starts vs TOR and 1 vs the NYY. Among those starts he managed the following:
- vs TOR: 5 IP | 4 H | 1 BB | 7 SO | 84 pitches thrown (60 strikes)
- vs NYY: 6 IP | 9 H | 0 BB | 1 SO | 89 pitches thrown (60 strikes)
- vs TOR: 6.2 IP | 2 H | 3 BB | 4 SO | 93 pitches thrown (58 strikes)
The last of those 3 starts was particularly impressive and provided a glimpse into what 2017 may bring. To be fair and honest, Cobb did get lit up during his final two starts, but we need the context there as well. He hadn’t thrown more than 4 innings in any start before ramping up as listed above, so he likely was worn down — in essence, he was still in rehabilitation.
Even with the wearing down in mind, 2017’s Spring Training performances could help ease worried minds and help make Cobb a prominent trade piece on a trade market that has Jose Quintana as the best (and very expensive) starting pitching option.
Here are his stats there thus far through 3 outings, with the full disclaimer: ALL Spring Training stats should be taken with a grain of salt, it’s mostly about pointing this his healthy status:
- 2017 ST: 8.1 IP | 7 H | 3 ER | 2 BB | 4 SO | 1.08 Whip
The question here is whether or not he can show well enough in ST to warrant a trade being made or not? And does it entirely depend on his performance, or can it be helped by how desperate another team is and how much they like him overall?
Alex Cobb: Current Trade Market
The Chicago White Sox and Jose Quintana most likely represent the largest competitors on the starting pitching market:
Just like with Sale, White Sox have great leverage with Quintana. Teams trying to win want/need pitching. Quintana is best prize left.— Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) December 12, 2016
Sure, it’s true that Quintana is the best prize left, but he’s also not going to come cheap with the demands reportedly being very steep, going so far as asking for Alex Bregman and 2-3 others in the process.
So we know that Quintana - thus far - has been too expensive for everyone and hasn’t been able to find a landing spot. How has the market developed?
There’s been the usual rash of injuries popping up through Spring Training, with the following most notables:
- Red Sox: David Price (elbow) and Roenis Elias (intercostal strain)
- Orioles: Chris Tillman (shoulder)
- Cardinals: Alex Reyes (TJ)
- Athletics: Sonny Gray (lat strain)
- Dodgers: Scott Kazmir (thoracic spine inflammation) and Brock Stewart (shoulder)
- Indians: Carlos Carrasco (elbow swelling)
- Nationals: Max Scherzer (fractured knuckle)
- Rangers: Andrew Cashner (bicep), Tyson Ross (ribs), Chi Chi Gonzalez (UCL tear)
- Twins: Trevor May (torn UCL)
- Reds: Anthony DeSclafani (UCL sprain)
Also, as noted by Marc Topkin yesterday - the Cubs and Dodgers are likely targets:
There are already whispers of potential interest elsewhere, including two teams with intimate connections — the Cubs, managed by ex-Ray Joe Maddon; and the Dodgers, presidented by ex-Ray Andrew Friedman.
In an attempt to read the tea leaves here, I’ll point out some of the more likely trade targets. Before that, I do want to point out that any potential trade could include other pieces, such as Topkin’s favourite trade target to mention -- Erasmo Ramirez, who is owed $3.125M. Trading him along with Alex Cobb ($4.2M) would free up $7.325M for the Rays, something that would simultaneously open up the ability to add salary through other trade(s).
Depending on what’s being sent over, the returns could increase substantially.
Previous activity: these two teams just made a significant deal when the Rays landed Jose De Leon in return for Logan Forsythe.
- C Austin Barnes
- OF Alex Verdugo
- OF Yusniel Diaz
- 2B Willie Calhoun
- RHP Jordan Sheffield
- 2B/SS Omar Estevez
Andrew Friedman knows what Cobb is all about and both sides have already done their homework on one-another’s systems. The ties here are deep and either Barnes or Verdugo could become substantial assets for the Rays as early as 2017. Barnes in particular could fill a need behind the plate and help out at 2B when Ramos is ready to take over the role full time, making him an intriguing target.
Previous activity: the Rangers were said to be interested in trading for Chris Archer to no avail, but did complete a trade for Eddie Gamboa for a PTBNL or cash.
- RHP Ariel Jurado
- 2B/SS Anderson Tejeda
- 2B/3B Andy Ibanez
- RHP Alex Speas
- RHP Connor Sadzeck
- SS Yeyson Yrizzari
If there’s one prospect the Rays could be extremely interested in when it comes to the Rangers, look no further than Ibanez who could take over at 2B while providing a good hitting approach and average to above-average power for the position. Pairing him with pitching prospect(s) and/or middle-infield options would make sense.
Previous activity: 3-way deal that sent Steven Souza and Travis Ott, (along with Rene Rivera, Burch Smith, and Jake Bauers) to the Rays, parted ways with Wil Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo, and Gerardo Reyes and sent stud prospect Trea Turner and Joe Ross to DC.
- OF Juan Soto
- RHP Erick Fedde
- SS Carter Kieboom
- RHP Koda Glover
- RHP Austin Voth
- 3B Anderson Franco
Unlike the others on this list, the Nats are in a precarious position because so many of their prospects are lower in the minors. Unless they’re able to get enough to part ways with Victor Robles, the Nats are more likely to offer some of their other prospects. While Soto is a nice prospect, it seems more likely that the Rays would get an abundance of returns with more question marks from the Nats than they would from other teams on this list.
Previous activity: the Rays traded Brandon Guyer to the Tribe in return for OF Nathan Lukes and RHP Jhonleider Salinas.
- RHP Triston Mckenzie
- 1B Bobby Bradley
- SS Erick Gonzalez
- 2B/3B/OF Yandy Diaz
- LHP Rob Kaminsky
- OF Oscar Gonzalez
While they may be an under-the-radar match for Cobb, they have some very interesting pieces to offer in both Diaz and Bradley - both of which could be of impact in 2017. If the Rays did target McKenzie, they’d likely have to offer more than Cobb. Gonzalez is the kind of lower-in-the-minors prospect the Rays have been asking for as they’ve dealt their veteran starters away (similar to Carlos Vargas in the Drew Smyly deal and Lucius Fox in the Matt Moore deal).
Previous activity: The aforementioned Cobb trade from last spring that never materialized.
- 2B/CF Ian Happ
- 3B/1B Jeimer Candelario
- OF Mark Zagunis
- RHP Trevor Clifton
- RHP Duane Underwood
- LHP Bryan Hudson
- RHP Jose Albertos
Happ, Candelario, and Zagunis could all be targets that have an impact as early as 2017. Happ has the kind of pedigree and versatility the Rays have been looking for (as they targeted Javier Baez), but the Cubs likely view him as their CF of the future at this point.
The most interesting thing with the Cubs is trying to figure out how Kyle Schwarber fits their long-term plans and whether or not a team like the Rays could make a deal for him work. It would be a mammoth deal, but of all teams the Rays have what the post-Arrieta Cubs may wind up needing most - pitching. With Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ set to join Jason Heyward in the Cubs OF by 2019, this is one blockbuster that could take the Rays roster to a new level.
After a winter’s worth of rest and training, Cobb is back on the mound and looking ahead at 2017 with nostalgia in mind:
"There will definitely be moments throughout the season when it will hit me," he said. "It won't be every day where I wake up and say, 'Hey, this could be my last day here.' … But it will be like mindless driving down the highway thinking about it. And it'll be a little sad."
Cobb knows he’s going to be traded. By mid-season, if that is when he moves, Cobb will be a former ace on a $2 million contract. If Matt Moore could fetch Matt Duffy, Lucious Fox, and another arm, what more could Cobb bring?