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Every good Alex Cobb start for the Orioles will lead to trade speculation. It won’t be easy to pull off.

Alex Cobb pitching a gem on the last weekend in July in a regular season would, in another timeline, be perceived as an ideal trade showcase for the veteran right-hander.

For the most aggressive out there when it comes to accelerating the Orioles’ rebuild, Saturday’s start was still a welcome sight.

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Cobb pitched 5⅓ innings of four-hit, one-run ball with six strikeouts, thanks to his ability to spot his fastball early in the game and then later find an effective breaking ball and changeup.

It was a fantastic debut for Cobb, who missed almost all of last year with injuries that led to hip surgery. He only has a few months of success to show for two-plus years of his four-year, $56 million contract signed ahead of the 2018 season. He’s on a mission to show that he’s still the pitcher who dominated the middle of the decade for the Tampa Bay Rays.

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“It’s a very small step in that journey, but you have to start somewhere,” Cobb said. “I’m really happy we were able to do that today.”

Many, however, are looking past the present when it comes to this Orioles season and looking only at the stated goals of executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias in growing the talent base at the minor league level.

That would typically mean taking a veteran on a heavy contract like Cobb and looking to move him. But trading him, especially the way baseball is set up for the next two months, might not be as easy as him simply pitching well.

Instead of the July 31 trade deadline that typically consumes the game around this time, that deadline will be on Aug. 31 this year. And it’s not without complications.

For starters, there’s the rule that only players who are designated on a club’s 60-man player pool can be traded. This can be particularly stifling for a few reasons. First, most teams only have their top prospects and close-to-the-majors depth at their secondary sites, same as the Orioles do.

It’s difficult to envision that a contender would part with a valuable depth piece amid the uncertainty that comes with every-other-day tests for COVID-19. It’s also tough to envision parting with a top prospect for a rotation piece when starters are less important in the playoffs and half the league will be playing in October anyway.

Teams who have space could always add some of the lower-level prospects that the Orioles seem to prefer in these trades to their player pool, like the Venezuelan teenagers the Orioles acquired in last year’s Andrew Cahsner deal with the Red Sox or the young pitchers acquired from the Los Angeles Angels for Dylan Bundy in December.

Those players would have to go in the Orioles’ player pool as well, though, which could further tip the balances away from the major league depth that the secondary site is supposed to have. It could possibly expose the Orioles to having to use a prospect they don’t want to on the big league team.

There’s also the complicated issue of Cobb’s contract, which like so many the Orioles gave out in the last decade has plenty of deferrals. It’s unclear both how the deferrals for 2020 — of which $4.5 million of his $14 million salary was meant to be deferred — works with the prorated pay that players will receive this year.

Cobb also has $4.5 million deferred from his 2021 salary as part of the initial agreement, but according to Cots Contracts, there’s a stipulation in his contract that says if he doesn’t pitch 130 innings in 2020, an additional $5.5 million will be deferred.

For the purposes of vesting options, the required innings are simply prorated to account for the shortened season. For a 60-game season, that’s just 48 innings, though it’s not clear if that’s exactly how Cobb’s deal would work.

He could get 11 more starts to pitch 43 more innings, though, and that’s attainable to secure a good deal more present-day money — and might be a deterrent to acquire him for 2021, considering how much money teams claim to be losing because of the pandemic.

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Either way, Cobb has a 10-team no-trade list he can submit to the team. That list could be used to earn a concession like guaranteeing his 2021 salary in present-day money if he wanted to, but could also be a way for him to control where he pitches next year.

It’s going to be a difficult situation to navigate, one that when considered might quiet the idea that Cobb is auditioning for the 29 other clubs in the next month. As far as the Orioles are concerned, the only thing that will make all those headaches worth considering will be Cobb pitching the way he did Saturday.

That, manager Brandon Hyde said, would be “huge for us.”

Around the horn

  • Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias said that the team feels pitching prospects will gain more if added to the player pool to go to the secondary site, and the team is discussing who else to add.
  • The Orioles announced eight undrafted free agent signings: Central Connecticut State first baseman TT Bowens, North Carolina Central right-hander Shane Davis, Duke right-hander Thomas Girard, North Carolina center fielder Dylan Harris, Pitt-Johnstown right-hander Isaiah Kearns, Radford first baseman J.D. Mundy, Auburn right-hander Ryan Watson and Louisiana-Lafayette right-hander Brandon Young.

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