Free agent starting pitcher Alex Cobb spoke with MLB Network Radio on Friday, and during the interview, the soon-to-be-former Ray seemed incredibly on-board with the idea of rejoining former manager Joe Maddon and former pitching coach Jim Hickey with the Cubs.
Cobb said he “can’t say enough good things about” Hickey, describing him as “not only a pitching coach, but a real close friend of mine.” Cobb’s most blatant remark was that he’d be “very honored to be able to talk with [the Cubs] and hopefully come to a deal.”
It’s no secret that the Cubs are on the lookout for starting pitching. The team will in all likelihood lose two-fifths of its rotation (Jake Arrieta and John Lackey) to free agency, and with the Cubs preferring to use Mike Montgomery in the swingman role he’s had so much success in since being acquired from the Mariners, the North Siders have both of those spots to fill. While they could very well turn to a big arm in free agency like Yu Darvish or Shohei Otani or make a trade for an ace like Chris Archer, it’s more likely than not that the team will lose out on all three of those players simply based on the competition that they’ll face and their lack of prospect capital.
Enter Cobb, who should cost no more than $64 million or so on a four year deal—and he’ll probably end up with a good chunk less than that. The 30-year-old righty excelled in a tough division in his first full season back after Tommy John surgery, posting a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts spanning 1791⁄3 innings, only missing a couple of starts due to turf toe—he had his last start of the season skipped due to his workload over the course of the season. Cobb walked an amazingly low 5.9% of batters faced, good for 12th amongst 58 qualified starters. His HR/9 and groundball percentage were also amongst the top 25 of the same 58 starters.
It wasn’t all good for Cobb, though. He struck out just 128 batters, putting his K% at 12th-worst. Additionally, he seemingly completely lost his feel for his split-changeup, a pitch that was his best pre-surgery, but plummeted in usage (38% at its peak to 14% in 2017) this past season.
Perhaps, though, that bodes well for Cobb. If he can work with Hickey—or whatever pitching coach he ends up with—to re-introduce that pitch into his repertoire, he could go back to being the pitcher who struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings in the two seasons before his surgery. If not, he could still be very good; in his last 12 starts of the season, Cobb posted a 3.14 ERA, and that number drops to a sterling 2.28 when removing a three-inning clunker against the Astros on July 31st.
Whoever signs Cobb, be it the Cubs or some other team, will be taking on a certain level of risk due to his injury history. But they’d likely be paying No. 4 starter money for a guy who can pitch like a No. 2 at his peak. And it looks like the Cubs might have a leg up.