Another day, another strong indication that the Cubs and Alex Cobb could be marrying up early in the free agent process.
After we learned late last week and over the weekend that Cobb and his former pitching coach Jim Hickey (now with the Cubs) very much want to continue working together, and aren’t the least bit shy about sharing it, we now know that the Cubs – at a front office level – are interested, too.
Per ESPN, Cobb is “in [the Cubs’] sights,” and they reached out to him early in the free agency process. Given the obvious fit and need, it is unsurprising – even if heartening – to learn that the Cubs immediately let him know that they had interest.
The deadline to reject his qualifying offer from the Rays is this Thursday, at which point Cobb will be tied to draft pick compensation (signing him would cost the Cubs their second highest pick in the 2018 draft and $500,000 in IFA pool space; all things considered, it’s worth it).
As we’ve said before, Cobb comes with a lot of great qualities – upside left at age 30 as he gets another year removed from Tommy John surgery, consistently good results in his career, strike-thrower – and would fit the Cubs extremely well at the back of the rotation for the next several years. On the flip side, there are some seriously concerning signals in the contact numbers (i.e., way too much hard, not enough soft for a guy who doesn’t register a lot of strikeouts) that dampen your enthusiasm that Cobb can be more than a 4/5 starter.
… which is not to say the Cubs shouldn’t get him on a reasonable deal as soon as possible. If Cobb’s demands can be met without pushing into the five-year or $15 million annual range, then getting him inked early in the offseason would leave the Cubs in a very enviable position as they approach alternatives – including trades – for rounding out the rotation. They’d have a very solid foursome in place at the top of the rotation, together with a guy in Mike Montgomery who could step right into the rotation if necessary. That’s not the plan, mind you, but if it came to that and no trade or other notable free agent deal came together, the Cubs could simply plan to roll with Lester-Quintana-Hendricks-Cobb-Montgomery, and bring in buy-low reclamation types over the coming months to compete for the fifth spot and to serve as depth.
Various projections have Cobb landing a deal of four or five years, in the range of $50 to $60 million.
An interesting side discussion: I could imagine a scenario where the Cubs might not hate a five-year deal, as opposed to a four-year deal, *IF* it meant that the AAV was substantially lower. For example, if the choices were a four-year, $56 million deal or a five-year, $60 million deal, you might love that extra year, as it drops the AAV (for luxury tax purposes) from $14 million to $12 million. And it does so at the price of an extra $4 million … which could be punted if Cobb is ineffective by then.