To be crystal clear up front: I don’t read this report as the kind of active, this-could-happen-soon kind of rumor we would more typically associate with the offseason or June/July/August. That is to say, you should not start pondering the implications of an immediate new addition to the Cubs’ full rotation.
In a longer profile of Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb, Marc Topkin reports of “whispers” of interest from the Cubs. Cobb, 29, will be trying to show in 2017 that he’s fully back from a 2015 Tommy John surgery that kept him out until late last season, when he tossed 22.0 largely ineffective innings. A good year from Cobb will set himself up for a nice payday after the season, when he will reach free agency.
Given the Rays’ never-ending need to turn over their big league roster in exchange for cost-effective youngsters, if Cobb does look like himself in the first half of 2017, he’ll almost certainly be traded at the deadline, at which point those “whispers” of Cubs interest could turn into actual trade rumors. That will depend, of course, not only on Cobb’s performance, but also the state of the Cubs’ rotation, which is currently healthy and robust. Adding Cobb midseason would at least partly be about the possibility of getting him in-house, working with him, and then extending him to help fill the void left by rotation departures after this season.
There have been rumors connecting the Cubs to Cobb before, but it’s worth pointing out that, since then, the Cubs have added Eddie Butler and Alec Mills to their stable of upper minors pitching depth that could figure into the rotation in 2018 and beyond.
As for Cobb, we’ll just keep an eye on his performance in the first half of 2017. Pre-surgery, Cobb was quietly excellent for the Rays, not posting an ERA, FIP, or xFIP higher than 3.36 in 2013 or 2014. Joe Maddon obviously knows him well, having been the manager in Tampa Bay for Cobb’s development and emergence.