David Price got his signature moment with Boston. Will his old teammate Alex Cobb get that chance with Orioles?

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Even allowing that the circumstances are vastly different for an Alex Cobb renaissance from the ones that led to his former Tampa Bay Rays teammate David Price's signature moment in clinching a World Series berth for the Boston Red Sox, watching that happen must have been a comforting moment for the Orioles right-hander.

While Price's first three years on a massive seven-year, $217 million contract with the Red Sox haven't been disasters, he's never really connected with a fan base that expects more for that money than even the 3.74 ERA he provided, and certainly expects postseason performance for that price.

On a much smaller financial scale, Cobb's four-year, $57 million contract has produced similar levels of apathy and disappointment. But there was plenty of hope that he could deliver some value after the way he turned around his 2018 season.

Cobb's struggles this year need little recounting. He signed in the final week of spring training as one of the last remaining free agents on the market, threw a few simulated games in Sarasota, Fla., once the club headed north to start the season, and fared disastrously once he joined the Orioles beginning April 14.

He allowed 17 earned runs on 30 hits in three April starts, scuffled some in May and June, but ultimately pulled his ERA below 6.00 in his first August start and below 5.00 in his first September start before a lingering cut on his finger that stemmed from a blister prevented him from finishing the season on a high note.

The Orioles will gladly take Cobb's second-half output on a larger scale in 2019. He had a 2.56 ERA in 10 starts with 39 strikeouts and a 1.16 WHIP in 59 2/3 innings down the stretch, thanks in part to a renewed confidence and effectiveness with his split-change.

That was Cobb's signature pitch when he was establishing himself with the Rays, but he lost a feel for it when he had Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery in 2015 and took a while to gain it back. He allowed a career-high seven home runs on his split-change this year, though it was as effective as ever after the All-Star break, with batters hitting .165 off it from that point on.

While Cobb hasn't missed bats at even the modest rate he did before his injury, it's the weak contact on the split-change that has made him as effective as he is throughout his career.

The overall result was a season that was worth 1.3 wins above replacement (WAR), according to FanGraphs, and a trajectory that makes it possible that unlike the Ubaldo Jiménez contract that preceded it, the Orioles might get full value for his contract.

And if he pitches like he did in the second half all season in 2019, just how long they hold that contract might come in for discussion. Though Cobb has some no-trade protections in his deal, he's one of several Orioles who could play himself out of Baltimore as part of the team's tear-down under new management next year — if not sooner.

His contract could be prohibitive, with a complicated deferred money structure and three years at $43 million remaining; the Orioles showed a willingness in July to take lesser players for the ability to shed payroll when they sent reliever Darren O'Day's contract to the Atlanta Braves along with starter Kevin Gausman.

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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