The Chicago Cubs entered this off-season with a pair of openings in their starting rotation with Jake Arrieta and John Lackey out on the free agent market. The team filled one of those slots last Thursday when they signed former Colorado Rockies starter Tyler Chatwood to a 3-year, $38 million deal. But since they still have an open spot, the team is looking to add another quality arm to add to the rotation. One of those players that the team is reportedly looking at is veteran right-hander Alex Cobb.
Cobb has spent his entire professional baseball career in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, beginning when they drafted him in the 4th round of the 2006 draft. He made his debut in 2011 and has been a staple in the rotation since then, when he has been healthy. His 2013 season was cut short by injury after he took a line drive to the head, and he also missed all of 2015 and most of 2016 after needing Tommy John surgery.
But when he has been out on the mound he has been one of the more effective starting pitchers in baseball. Cobb has a career 3.50 ERA, 3.68 FIP, 1.21 WHIP, and a 7.3 K/9 rate. Since returning from his Tommy John surgery he has seen an increase in many of those stats, owning a 4.20 ERA, 4.32 FIP, and has allowed 9.3 H/9 (which is a full hit higher than his career average). However after having a little over a full season to get adjusted to pitching with his reconstructed elbow – and finishing last year with a 3.66 ERA – we should see the rest of those numbers come back down toward his career average marks. He has also had good luck at keeping the ball on the ground more often than not, owning a 54% groundball rate over his entire professional career.
One advantage the Cubs have over other teams when it comes to making a pitch for Cobb is the fact that he has strong relationships with both manager Joe Maddon and newly signed pitching coach Jim Hickey, and Cobb has said that he wouldn’t mind a reunion with his former coaches. Maddon was the manager in Tampa for the first four years of Cobb’s big league career, and Hickey has been his pitching coach for his entire career. Having a pair of familiar faces would help him acclimate to his new teammates and surroundings a little quicker, and it never hurts to work with people you know.
Cobb could slot in anywhere from second to fourth in this rotation, and that would entirely depend on what matchups Maddon would want to play to start out the season. My best guess is that Jon Lester would get the opening day nod, and any combination of Cobb, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana would immediately follow with Chatwood taking the fifth slot. Figuring out what exact order to put these guys would come down to splitting hairs and there would be no wrong answer, which would be a fantastic problem to have for the Cubs.
There appears to be mutual interest between Cobb and the Cubs, and he would be a good piece to add to this team. He would provide quality rotation depth and give the Cubs one of the strongest – if not the strongest – five man rotation in all of baseball. His history with Maddon and Hickey would help his transition to the National League, and his stuff could make him one of the best starters in that rotation.
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