With less than 10 days to go until Opening Day, the Orioles are nearing their biggest upgrade of the offseason: a deal with former Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Alex Cobb, according to multiple industry sources.
The Orioles had interest in Cobb, 30, since the first weeks of the offseason, but the starting pitcher’s demands never seemed to be in line with what the club was willing to give, especially in terms of the years of commitment
Still, the pairing of Cobb and the Orioles made sense. Even with the additions of right-hander Andrew Cashner and the return of Chris Tillman on a make-good, one-year deal, adding Cobb — with his track record of success in the American League East — always seemed to be a move that could legitimately move the Orioles from pretender to contender in a bulked-up division.
Now, the Orioles have agreed to terms on a four-year deal with Cobb in the range of $56 million to $60 million and does include deferred money, according to industry sources. The deal, which is still pending a club physical, is expected to be finalized Wednesday, according to a source.
The deal with Cobb would be the largest financial commitment the Orioles have given a free-agent starting pitcher. The club signed Ubaldo Jiménez to a four-year, $50 million deal before the 2014 season.
After signing free-agent starting pitchers Jiménez and Yovani Gallardo (two years, $22 million) in recent offseasons, the Orioles have made another late run into free agency to retool their starting rotation. Earlier this offseason, the Orioles signed Cashner to a two-year, $16 million deal and gave Tillman a $3 million commitment to return, both on under-market deals after waiting through the offseason.
Because Cobb rejected a $17.4 million qualifying offer from the Rays, the Orioles will lose their third-highest 2018 draft pick, currently No. 51. They keep the 11th overall pick, and have the second pick in Competitive Balance Round A, No. 36 overall.
Pitching his entire career with the Rays, Cobb has a 48-35 record and 3.50 ERA in 115 major league starts. He was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in his first full season back from Tommy John elbow reconstruction, pitching a career-high 179 1/3 innings.
Earlier in the offseason, the Orioles were not interested in making a long-term commitment to Cobb, mainly because he’s pitched more than 150 innings only twice in his career. But he showed in 2017 that he was back from the Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2015 season and most of 2016 with the most durable year of his career last year.
Of the four premier free-agent starters — a group that also included former Oriole Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish and Lance Lynn — the Orioles saw Cobb as the best fit for their rotation, but it seemed unlikely the Orioles would make any offer greater than two or three years.
He was reportedly initially seeking a four-year deal in the $80 million range, and rejected a four-year, $48 million deal from the Chicago Cubs.
Cobb’s potential addition to the Orioles rotation would give the club another ground-ball artist to go with Cashner, as well as a pitcher who is battle-tested in the AL East. He owns a 21-13 record and a 3.08 ERA in his career against division opponents and Cobb’s career ground-ball rate is 54 percent, though that fell to 47.8 percent last season.
Cobb has a three-pitch arsenal — a low-90s fastball, an 80 mph curveball and a mid-80s splitter — though last year he used his curveball much more and went away from his splitter.