As the Baltimore Orioles look around at the other teams in the American League East, outsiders continue to doubt their chances of competing in the division. They might be right, but the Orioles have shown this offseason they have no interest in packing it up for 2018. Their most recent move, agreeing to a four-year deal with right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb, emphasizes that point.
The Orioles have already addressed their starting rotation needs prior to Cobb’s arrival by signing Andrew Cashner and re-signing Chris Tillman. Starting pitching in 2017 for the Orioles was a disaster. Dylan Bundy‘s 4.24 ERA was the lowest among the starters. After Kevin Gausman had an impressive 2016, his ERA jumped by a whole run over a one-year span. Wade Miley and Ubaldo Jimenez usually found their way into early trouble, which prohibited their abilities to go deep into games. Orioles general manager Dan Duquette tried to put a band aid on the struggling rotation at the non-waiver trade deadline, but Jeremy Hellickson also pitched poorly and had to take a minor-league deal from the nearby Washington Nationals this offseason.
However, the Cobb signing is a bold move by the Orioles front office, despite a real likelihood of drastic changes at the end of this upcoming season.
Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Zach Britton, and Brad Brach will all be free agents this winter. Trade scenarios, especially for Machado, were explored over the winter, but as we have seen, owner Peter Angelos has been unwilling to rebuild. A trade involving Britton and the Houston Astros was vetoed by Baltimore ownership, according to Astros owner Jim Crane. Even if the Orioles had worked out a Machado trade, there’s no guarantee that it would have been approved.
Duquette’s contract is also set to expire after this season, and if the club underachieves again, his job will be in jeopardy. Brittany Ghiroli of MLB.com mentions that the Orioles were not interested in giving a four-year deal to a pitcher because of how the Jimenez contract severely backfired. Cobb actually had a higher ERA than Jimenez in their walk years, which shows an urgency for Duquette to put the best possible roster this year regardless of what occurred in the past.
Cobb was arguably the third best starting pitcher on the free agent market this offseason, behind Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta, and his patience in this slow market payed off. Cobb and Lance Lynn were compared often this winter, but Cobb received a multi-year contract at a higher annual value than Lynn’s one-year deal.
Cobb also missed the entire 2015 season due to Tommy John surgery, which is a reason for him to seek a longterm deal but also adds to the risk factor for the Orioles. He is three years removed from the procedure now and has shown his durability in Tampa Bay. In 2017, Cobb threw 179 innings, a career high, as a frontline starter for the Rays. Cobb’s ability to get the ball every fifth day, go deep into ballgames, and prove he can succeed in the American League East is something Baltimore desperately needs.
This will be a very interesting year for the Orioles based on their performance. If they struggle, phones will be ringing to sell expiring players. If they excel, Duquette can convince ownership he is worthy to be the guy running this team going forward.
Last year they were supposed to be sellers, but instead they brought in Hellickson and Tim Beckham to give it one last effort in the final stretch.
The Orioles have quality prospects such as Austin Hays, Chance Sisco, and Ryan Mountcastle, but their collection of young talent is nowhere near the top ten. For a team that could have severe turnover and financial restrictions due to the Chris Davis contract, their future is up in the air.
The club will certainly have an uphill battle to reach the postseason, but they are committed to going down swinging.