Toronto Blue Jays: Why they should swing late Alex Cobb deal

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Starting pitcher Alex Cobb
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Starting pitcher Alex Cobb /

Alex Cobb now stands as the top unsigned free agent. The 29-year-old could be a good, inexpensive option for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018 and maybe beyond.

As the opening of the 2018 season draws closer for the Toronto Blue Jays and the rest of the league, the slow developing free agent market is finally calming down. Big names like Mike Moustakas, Lance Lynn, Carlos Gonzalez and Neil Walker have all settled on team-friendly, one-year deals, with the hope of trying for a multi-year offer next offseason.

Former Rays starter Alex Cobb now stands as the top unsigned free agent. The 29-year-old could be a good, and most importantly inexpensive, option for the Blue Jays for 2018 and possibly beyond.

Toronto’s rotation does not have much depth beyond the starting five. Much like last year, the Jays will have Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada; the only difference being Jaime Garcia will be the fifth man instead of Francisco Liriano. Beyond that the Jays have Joe Biagini, expected to start at Triple-A Buffalo, and prospects like Thomas Pannone and Ryan Borucki, also on the 40-man roster.

But with news of Stroman’s shoulder issues, a long-term injury could again expose Toronto’s lack of rotational depth. Enter Cobb, who went 12-10, with a 3.66 ERA, and 128 strikeouts in 179.1 innings for the Tampa Bay Rays last year.

How much would Cobb cost?

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently reported that Cobb received a four-year, $48 million offer early this offseason, from an unnamed team. Not an unreasonable price for a 29-year-old with a 3.50 career ERA, but it seems the offer is no longer on the table.

Passan offers Lynn, who settled for a one-year, $12 million deal with the Minnesota Twins, as the closest comparable to Cobb. Could the Toronto Blue Jays persuade Cobb to sign on for one year, or for a discounted multi-year deal?

Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors summarized the predicament the former Rays ace is facing as Opening Day draws closer:

"“We’re obviously still waiting to see just what Cobb will ultimately earn, but needless to say, it seems unlikely he’ll reach the levels he might have had previously.”"

After signing Garcia this off-season to a one-year, $8 million deal, adding another arm to the rotation may seem a stretch for the Jays. But if the price is right, Toronto could surely find a place for another pitcher.

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Roch Kobatko of MASN Sports recently wrote that Cobb is still seeking a multi-year deal and the Boston-native appears unlikely to settle on a Lynn-like contract.

Heading into the year, the Toronto Blue Jays have a payroll of $155 million. A multi-year, back-heavy contract could help the Jays fit Cobb into the budget. A three-year contract, worth $33 million ($8 million in 2018, $12 million in 2019 and $13 million in 2020) would make Cobb an affordable luxury for the Jays.

Now there is no way to know what Cobb is expecting or demanding from teams. But a multi-year deal in the range of $30 million a season would still rank as the 11th highest deal signed this off-season (MLBTR ranked him as the 11th free agent this off-season).

How Cobb would fit in the Jays rotation 2018 and beyond

Signing Cobb would push Garcia out of the Jays rotation. But he could serve as a valuable tool in the Jays bullpen and as an extra starter when needed.

As it stands the Blue Jays have a string of single-inning relievers, with the signing of Seung-hwan Oh, John Axford and Tyler Clippard. Lacking in this group is a proven long inning reliever.

Garcia could be used in a similar way to how the Jays used Estrada in 2015, who started the season as a long reliever and pitched his way into the rotation. He would also add another lefty to the pen, to go along with Aaron Loup.

With Stroman, Sanchez, Cobb, Happ and Estrada, Toronto would have an elite one-through-five. But adding another proven arm would give the team more flexibility if they chose to trade pending free agents, Estrada and Happ.

Cobb could help bridge the gap between this year’s rotation to 2019.  If the Jays do lose those two to free agency, then they will at least have a stable three moving forward, with an option on Garcia for next season as well.

What’s the catch with Cobb?

Prior to this season, teams signing a player that received a qualifying offer had to forfeit a first-round draft pick. But under the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement there is a complex new set of rules.

The new rules give different requirements to teams that receive revenue sharing, those that did not, and those that exceeded the luxury tax last season. This is a way to prevent the wealthiest teams from dominating the off-season.

According to an MLB article from earlier this off-season, this is how Toronto would be penalized for signing Cobb,

"“A team that neither exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season nor receives revenue sharing will lose its second-highest selection in the following year’s Draft, as well as $500,000 from it’s international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period.”"

If the deal exceeded $50 million, Toronto would have to give the Rays a pick between the first-round and Competitive Balance Round A.

Would the Jays be willing to trade $500,000 of international money and a second-round pick for a middle-of-the-rotation arm?

Toronto has failed to exploit this year’s weak free agent market, while their rivals have. The Minnesota Twins added Lynn and slugger Logan Morrison with cheap one-year deals, while the Yankees added veteran infielder Neil Walker. Even teams that seem out of contention in 2018 have joined in on the bargain shopping, with the A’s signing former all-star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and the Royals re-signing Moustakas.

Next: The trade which changed Jose Bautista's fate

Cobb is an unnecessary luxury at the moment. However, if the Toronto Blue Jays can sign him to an affordable deal, he could become a valuable asset for 2018 and beyond.