Free-agent pitcher Alex Cobb talks about what went into his decision to sign with the Baltimore Orioles. (Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — As much as the Orioles' signing of right-hander Alex Cobb to a four-year deal worth more than any other pitching contract they've ever awarded sent a signal to their fans that they have addressed the needs of their starting rotation, that message was received tenfold inside the clubhouse.
A major league group that spent most of the spring wondering aloud whether the team would reach outside the organization for a starter such as Cobb was abuzz that the club on Wednesday night answered in the affirmative.
It was a clear statement that despite an inevitable change in the team's core after the 2018 season, they'd be equipped to make one last run at a championship.
"We're going for it — period," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "We're going for it. Fortunately, the five years that I've been a part of this team, we've been going for it every time. I think there was possibly a little gray area of whether we were or not, but we made some excellent acquisitions. We're obviously going for it. We know we can score runs. Now it's going to be interesting to see with the guys we have on the mound. We're really excited about it."
Said Kevin Gausman, last year's Opening Day starter: "It's just exciting. I was telling my wife last night that it's nice to know that especially with how the offseason was, and everybody talking about teams not being competitive, our owners were willing to go out there and get a guy that's proven — not just proven in the American League, but in the AL East. We're happy to have him."
Gausman's approval of the commitment ownership showed was echoed across the clubhouse. After setting club records for payrolls in recent seasons, the team’s high salaries for Ubaldo Jiménez, J.J. Hardy, Wade Miley, and Jeremy Hellickson came off the books. But with All-Stars Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Zach Britton and Brad Brach allowed to reach their walk year, there was uncertainty among the players as to what both 2018 and beyond would look like.
That the Orioles and the Angelos family committed $57 million for Cobb and matched the club’s longest pitching contract — four years — made clear that they'll have a quality starter for the present and the future.
"I think it says that ownership is willing to spend the money to keep us competitive. Especially this year, you can look at our club," Gausman said. "Nobody is dumb around here. There's probably going to be some guys who are gone after this next season. Our window to go win a championship is this year.
“So, I think it kind of proves to everybody that they're willing to spend money on a guy that's proven, and is going to be a guy that's going to eat innings. He's had really good success in a tough division to pitch in, so I think it makes everybody a little bit more confident, and confident in the fact that with all the teams in baseball that aren't being competitive and are just kind of banking on the draft, our ownership isn't one of those. That's good."
Five pieces of fallout from the Orioles' four-year agreement with right-hander Alex Cobb, including what happens to the rest of the fifth starter candidates, how they build a bullpen and bench, and what it says about the Orioles both this year and going forward
Said reliever Darren O'Day said: "I'm pretty excited. It's a tough division, man. You need all the help you can get, so it's exciting that ownership felt that Alex was worth it. Alex, we've been playing against him for six years now. I know how good he is, so it's exciting that he's on our team now. Hopefully, he'll continue to do what we've been watching him do to us for a long time."
For some of the Orioles' hitters, who have seen firsthand what Cobb can do, the addition is a boost as well. Third baseman Tim Beckham, who spent the beginning of his career on the Tampa Bay Rays with Cobb before he was traded July 31 to the Orioles, called Wednesday "a good day for the Orioles."
"You've got a professional pitcher coming in here, a professional guy," Beckham said. "He's a great teammate, and he's definitely going to help our club out a lot. ... Every day we go out, we've got a chance to win a ballgame. Every fifth game, Cobby gets the ball, he's going to go out there and compete. I know that about him. He's going to leave it all out on the field, and he's going to give us a chance to win the ballgame."
Center fielder Adam Jones, the longest-tenured player on the team, wants that version of Cobb to be the one the Orioles have for the next four years. He acknowledged that he and his teammates have spent plenty of time discussing such an addition before it happened.
"Obviously, people say, 'Would you like [Lance] Lynn? Would you like Cobb? Both,” Jones said. “Both the guys are tremendous competitors, and when you see Lynn sign, you're like, 'Oh, OK.' When you see what he signed for, you always think, that ... we could have done that. I don't know the business side of it. We just think as competitors.
"So he's off the market. Now could something happen with [Cobb?] Could we really go out and get this dude? People talk clubhouse, on the field, various things, just about what kind of guy this would be for our club. We ended up getting him. Finally. One of our thoughts we spoke into existence."