clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Alex Cobb looks ahead

Cobb is unlikely to be in a Rays uniform in 2018. How does he feel about moving on?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The featured guest on this week’s episode of This Week in Rays Baseball was Alex Cobb. It was an interesting, albeit classic media-player interview. Neil Solondz asked Cobb about his comeback from Tommy John surgery, and about this year’s team performance. Cobb gave some classic Athlete Answers and the interview began to wind down around the 13-minute mark.

It was the final question of the interview that really caught my attention, however. Solondz used an elite-level segue to lead into asking Cobb about his future with the Rays. Here’s the exact question from Solondz to Cobb:

“That freedom kind of extends to what you’re able to do going forward, and I asked you this in spring training, so I want to wrap up the same way. How much more thought have you given to what’s to come for you with your freedom as a baseball player and the chance to pursue free agency for the first time?”

As Rays’ fans know, Cobb will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season, part of why his name has come up in so many trade rumors this season. Cobb is set for a pretty serious raise, and the Rays will have to determine whether or not he is part of their future plans. Cobb will also have to decide whether he wants the Rays to be part of his future plans.

That’s why Cobb’s answer was so interesting. Cobb riffed for 86 seconds in response to Solondz, seemingly swerving left and right, zigging and zagging between definitive stances while saying a bit of everything. It’s an answer that deserves a deeper look. So that’s what we’re going to do. What follows is a paraphrase of Cobb’s answer, edited for clarity, to Solondz:

“It’s bittersweet, you know. I think from the day you get in the big leagues you kind of learn on the run of the way this business side of things work.”

Referencing the “business side of things” seems like a classic tell that Cobb knows that he plays for a franchise that has been known to pinch pennies in the past. He knows the Rays have only once paid a pitcher more than $10 million a season, and that was David Price, a Face of the Franchise type arm who is the franchise leader in starting pitcher WAR. Cobb has been solid for the Rays, but not at the level Price was at when they gave him a one-year, $14 million deal in 2014 to avoid arbitration.

“It just seems like such a far-off, unrealistic goal to get to, that you have to spend six-plus years in the big leagues to obtain this opportunity to go and be a free agent and really, for the first time in your career, dictate what’s going to happen in your life rather than being told what [will] happen.”

Again, this sounds like a man who is (understandably) excited to test out the free agency waters. It’s not as though Cobb has been making peanuts for his professional career so far - almost anyone reading this (and certainly anyone writing this) would gladly trade salaries with Cobb for any year since he reached the majors in 2011. Still, this is a player who has been “worth” over $64 million (according to FanGraphs dollars/WAR calculations) during his MLB career but has made less than $15 million in actual money during that time. It’s time for him to make up a bit of that difference, and he knows it.

“But somewhere along those six-plus years you form a family in the organization and a comfort level that you know you won’t obtain anywhere else for a long time.”

Well, maybe not so fast. I added the italics to “won’t” for emphasis, but when he was talking Cobb did the same thing. He almost paused a hair before saying “won’t” as if he was deciding exactly how to phrase the end of that sentence. And he decided on “won’t.” As in he knows that wherever he moves it will not be the same as the time he has had in Tampa Bay.

As he says in the next section, Cobb has lived in Florida nearly his entire life, and having to pack up and leave a place is a part of the free agency process that is often overlooked. It’s a real-life decision that we all deal with in our late-20s and early-30s. Do we want to chase a bit more money and possibly a better chance to succeed even if it comes at the expense of moving out our comfort zone? It’s an eternal question and one that Cobb clearly has on his mind these days.

“So, one part of me is excited that I’ve gotten to this point in my career, and the other part is going to be very difficult to handle just because I’ve formed a family here and it’s all I’ve known. I grew up in Florida and I made my living here in St. Pete for the last six years, seven years.”

Wait, Cobb likes it here? Does that mean he would be open to an offer from the Rays? There have been ample rumors that the Rays have initiated conversations with Cobb over the years. These conversations seemed to be ongoing around the time Archer signed his deal; even earlier, after he recovered from a line drive to the head, there was speculation that he could be extended.

If Cobb and the Rays couldn’t arrive at mutually acceptable numbers then, however, it is highly unlikely that it could happen now.

Of course, Cobb may well experience some upheavals before he has the opportunity to “dictate what happens” in his career; Cobb has been the frequent headliner in numerous potential deals across the past few seasons, and the likelihood that the Rays would not try to get some value for him at the trade deadline this year is quite low.

And even unrestricted free agents don’t have complete freedom to determine their destiny; the number of teams interested in Cobb will be limited, and he is hardly the only starter on the free agent market (although he is likely to be a less expensive alternative for clubs who can’t bid on Yu Darvish or Jake Arrieta).

“It’s definitely going to be a weird chapter in my life.”

Agreed, Alex.