Schmuck: Agreement with Cobb is latest twist that turns Orioles rotation into solid unit

Here’s a short list of things that seemed inconceivable just a few days ago: UMBC defeating No. 1 Virginia in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and the Orioles arriving at Opening Day with a solid top-to-bottom starting rotation.

According to industry sources, the Orioles have agreed to terms with free-agent starting pitcher Alex Cobb on a rich, four-year deal that now gives them a legitimate major league starting pitcher in each of the five slots of a rotation that last year was one of the worst in baseball.

How many teams can say that?

Cobb, who was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA with the Tampa Bay Rays last year, was one of the top four starting pitchers on the market, and he was the last man standing after Yu Darvish signed with the Chicago Cubs, Lance Lynn joined the Minnesota Twins and Jake Arrieta landed in Philadelphia. He held his ground during a frozen free-agent market and was rewarded for his resolve.

So were the Orioles, who weathered a winter of criticism for doing little between the opening of the market and the start of spring training, but in February they signed solid right-hander Andrew Cashner to a two-year deal and brought back Chris Tillman on a one-year, make-good major league contract.

Still, with Cobb still out there, they continued to fend off the charge that they were not willing to spend what it would take to complete a decent rotation. Now, pending Cobb’s physical, they have the depth to weather a major injury and they have enough starters that they will be able to use promising young Miguel Castro in the long role he filled so well last year.

Does this make the Orioles a division title contender? Maybe not, but it makes them a team with enough pitching to take full advantage of their strong offense, especially once sluggers Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo are fully healthy.

It would be easy to look at this deal as another example of the way baseball operations chief Dan Duquette has been able to wait out the market year after year and acquire pivotal players during early February and spring training, but it’s not quite that simple.

The deal is more proof of the increasing role of Orioles vice president Brady Anderson, who was instrumental in bringing in Cashner and keeping the lines of communication open with Tillman. He also is believed to have been involved heavily in a very lengthy negotiating process with Cobb, who ended up with the largest pitching contract ever awarded to anyone by the Orioles.

Give some credit to the Angelos family because this had to be a tough sell. The Orioles were still stinging from the four-year, $50 million deal they gave to Ubaldo Jiménez before the 2014 season. That contract went so far south that it was hard to argue with the club’s stated resistance to giving any free-agent pitcher more than three guaranteed years.

That’s always a gamble and major league payrolls are littered with the sunk cost of players who did not live up to the later years of their giant contracts, but it made sense here. The Orioles chose not to trade Manny Machado over the offseason because they didn’t feel they could get enough in return, so Plan B had to be to make as much out of the 2018 season as was economically practical.

Maybe this means the O’s will try to go all in on Manny between now and next winter, but let’s not get carried away. This deal means that the Orioles are serious about getting to the playoffs this year, and this deal makes that seem possible.

There’s still a lot that has to go right for them to go toe-to-toe against the ascendant New York Yankees and the balanced Boston Red Sox, but now they clearly have a puncher’s chance.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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