After scads of conflicting reports, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of where Alex Cobb’s market really sits. You may recall that the Cubs were said to be making a “strong push” to sign the former Rays starter ahead of the Winter Meetings, but obviously nothing came of it at the time. That’s when word of an $80 million asking price began to circulate, though that number was subsequently shot down.
It was obvious, however, that Cobb was asking for much more than initially expected, hence the Cubs’ interest in even pricier pitchers. But it was also likely that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer made a low-ball offer, something David Kaplan confirmed Thursday, rather than solidify their rotation without thoroughly exploring all the options.
I had thought in early December that it’d be smart to lock Cobb up before his price got too high, though offering him only $42 million over three years wasn’t going to get it done. That’s well under what Cobb figured to garner, both in terms of years and overall money, but it’s not as far off from his actual demands as once thought. Kaplan said Cobb’s camp was looking for “far less” than $80 million and Jon Heyman is reporting that the figure is actually around $10 million below that.
Specifically, Heyman wrote that “Cobb is believed to be willing to sign in the four-year, $70 million range,” which is just pretty much what I’d surmised. That’s a whole ‘nother year and $28 million more than what the Cubs offered, though the gap might not be as hard to bridge as you might think. Consider that the Cubs may be as much as two years and $50-ish million apart in terms of Jake Arrieta’s desired contract.
Even though $17.5 million AAV would be a jagged little pill to swallow, signing Cobb for that amount over four years would mean maintaining a great deal more of their financial flexibility moving forward. Giving Arrieta $27 million AAV over five years would not. Maintain flexibility, that is.
It’s something I’ve already said more than you probably care to hear, but this isn’t a binary issue of signing Cobb instead of Arrieta or even Yu Darvish. If it was, you’d have seen one of those latter to brought in already. Instead, the Cubs are playing 3D chess and looking several moves and years ahead to see what signing one of these pitchers will mean in the grand scheme.
They have to cross-reference salary numbers with roster needs both now and over subsequent seasons in order to determine what the best choice will be. And that’s why they’ve continued to look at trades, even ones that might involve Addison Russell or Javy Baez (gasp!), in addition to free agency. What this will all come down to is the Cubs making the move they think puts them in the best position to compete now and in the future.
Crazy concept, I know. Darvish and Arrieta might anchor the rotation and be better from a win-now perspective, but they could also become anchors that drag the team down and make the payroll more rigid in three years. More of a stopgap or spot-filler, Cobb’s value is in allowing the Cubs to go out and get other big pieces as they see fit.
Maybe because I err on the conservative side in these matters, I’m more in favor of playing it little more safe in terms of the money. I mean, $10 million is a boatload of cash and could probably land another really good pitcher. Or it could be held back for a midseason acquisition if one is required. I also think that what Cobb is willing to take could drop down below $70 million before too long, thus freeing up even more money.
Then again, the Orioles and several other teams are said to still be in the mix for Cobb. I just hope the Cubs land someone by the time the regular season opens.