After a couple recent signings, Alex Cobb is the last great free agent starting pitcher. Could the Washington Nationals sign him to fill their vacant rotation spot?
The Washington Nationals have been rumored to have had varying levels of interest in free agent starting pitchers throughout the offseason. Nothing has come to fruition yet, but the rumors make sense considering the vacancy in their rotation.
While there were not any elite starting pitchers available this offseason (you have to wait until next offseason for Clayton Kershaw to possibly hit the open market), there were several solid starters without homes.
Following suit with the rest of this whacky offseason, February came around with Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn, and Alex Cobb remaining unsigned. Darvish signed in early-February, but the other three were still looking for homes in March.
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Lynn and Arrieta finally signed in early-March; Lynn with the Twins and Arrieta with the Phillies, but Cobb is still up for grabs.
Although Cobb is not elite, and is not as big of a name as Arrieta, he would improve any rotation. Of all the starting pitchers that hit the market this offseason, Cobb may be the best bet.
In terms of stature, Cobb is essentially the American League’s version of Tanner Roark. Cobb has been consistent, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in every full season except 2012, but is overshadowed by his fellow rotation-mates. For Roark, it’s Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg; for Cobb, it has been Chris Archer.
Despite Cobb’s impressive track record, he remains unsigned. This has been an extremely unorthodox offseason, so there is no way to determine why he is still searching for a home, but one possible reason is his prior Tommy John Surgery.
Cobb underwent Tommy John Surgery a few years ago, which forced him to miss the entire 2015 season and most of 2016. However, he returned last year to pitch nearly 200 innings with a 3.66 ERA.
Last season proved that Cobb has fully recovered from surgery, but the Nats have not been afraid to gamble on Tommy John recipients. After all, they drafted Erick Fedde knowing he required surgery and signed Shawn Kelley with two under his belt.
Cobb’s repertoire also allows him to recover well from Tommy John. He primarily relies on a sinker, which is more effective when thrown at less than full strength. If thrown too hard, it may not sink as much. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, i.e., Ryan Madson.
At the beginning of the offseason, Cobb was likely hoping for a long-term contract. However, he may have to settle for a lesser deal now. A three-year deal worth around $15 million per year would make sense for Cobb and the Nats.
If the Nats are weary about Cobb’s past and do not want to commit three years to him, he could sign something similar to Lynn’s one-year, $12 million deal.
The longer Cobb remains unsigned, the more pressure he will feel to sign a contract and report to spring training. The Nats would offer him an opportunity to contend, and he is familiar with Dave Martinez from their days in Tampa Bay.
With Opening Day quickly approaching, the Nats could be an ideal destination for Cobb. They do not necessarily need a starting pitcher, but Cobb would certainly be a nice addition at the right price.