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Orioles are no strangers to pitchers signing late, but how quickly can they get Alex Cobb ready?

Orioles reporters Jon Meoli and Eduardo A. Encina discuss the team’s four-year agreement with right-hander Alex Cobb and how he fits into a rotation that’s now been upgraded from last season with Andrew Cashner and now Chris Tillman since spring training started.

The Orioles are no strangers to pitchers getting a late start in spring training thanks to the delayed free-agent signings of Ubaldo Jiménez and Yovani Gallardo. They provided blueprints for getting a pitcher who doesn't open camp with the club ready for the regular season.

But a March 20 agreement like the one the Orioles struck Tuesday with right-hander Alex Cobb — nine days before Opening Day — blasts those best-laid plans to shreds.

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Cobb has likely been throwing and preparing on his own, but mthe Orioles are faced with a unique challenge where precedent, both their own and around the game, might not lend much help.

Gallardo had already thrown four bullpen sessions when he reported to camp Feb. 25, 2016. He debuted in Grapefruit League action with two innings March 9, then pitched into the third inning March 14 before a rainout scrapped his start March 19. Gallardo didn't finish the fourth inning in his next start March 26 and ended the spring with five shutout, one-hit innings March 31.

However, he started the season poorly and made four starts before landing on the disabled list for nearly two months with a weak shoulder. He essentially required a month to build up strength.

In 2014, Ubaldo Jiménez signed the richest contract of any pitcher in club history — four years for $50 million — in a deal made official Feb. 26. His spring debut came March 7, and he pitched two innings in his first two starts before a minor league start, then went six innings March 22 and 5 1/3 innings March 27. He built up faster than Gallardo, but was still on a relatively abbreviated schedule in the spring.

What makes this different, obviously, is how late Cobb is agreeing to a deal — March 20 — and the season beginning four days earlier than normal, March 29.

It's unclear what Cobb has been doing on his own, but even allowing for an intensive March in preparation for joining a team and being close to ready to start the season, the Orioles have still had five spring training starts to get their new pitchers going — a 30-day plan, really, if you include the time off between the end of spring and Opening Day.

Cobb's spring training plan has typically included six starts before camp broke.

Recent precedent for major league contracts this late in spring training practically don't exist. The Kansas City Royals signed Chris Young on March 7, 2015, and he began the year in the major league bullpen before transitioning to the rotation May 1.

The Orioles' schedule could help, but only some. If they have their Opening Day starter come back on five days’ rest to start April 3, thanks to the March 30 day off, they wouldn't need a fifth starter until April 7.

If the Orioles are able to squeeze in one spring start from Cobb before heading north, then leave him in Sarasota to pitch in a minor league game, he could reasonably pitch a simulated game with the major league club during that first week of the season and be around five innings by April 7.

That would require a quick physical and signing process — never a given with the Orioles, and Cobb has Tommy John elbow reconstruction in his past — but considering the time-sensitive nature of the situation, it could happen.

Another option could be letting Cobb start in the minor leagues, which would require his permission as a player who has over five years of major league service time. Transaction records show the Tampa Bay Rays used only two of his three minor league option years—in 2011 and 2012.

Cobb could theoretically accept a minor league option to get himself stretched out in game situations for the season, which would allow the Orioles to have another roster spot on Opening Day and punt a difficult roster decision a few weeks down the line.

A few problems would arise from this, chief among them that Cobb would likely need assurances he wouldn't be down for more than 20 days so he could continue to accrue major league service time. It would also mean he wouldn't be available for a crucial early-season stretch during which the Orioles face three 2017 playoff teams — the Minnesota Twins, Houston Astros and New York Yankees.

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Without there being much precedent — or any idea of how ready Cobb is to pitch and how soon he'll be full go — the Orioles will have to settle on being satisfied with the idea of adding a pitcher with a 3.50 career ERA to a rotation that needs that kind of consistency.

That will have to carry them until it becomes clear how long until they get to see him in the regular season.

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