Chicago Cubs: Alex Cobb could be an attractive get for the Cubs

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 31: Alex Cobb
HOUSTON, TX - JULY 31: Alex Cobb /

The Chicago Cubs already brought in touted pitching coach Jim Hickey from the Tampa Bay Rays. Could starting pitcher Alex Cobb be close behind?

The Chicago Cubs have reached out and officially connected with Joe Maddon’s old pal Jim Hickey. Might a pitcher who knows both quite well be on the way next?

Alex Cobb will be a free agent for the first time this winter.

Fairly consistent

For six seasons, Cobb compiled a 48-35 record with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2017 Cobb was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA. He’s averaged 14 wins per season and 3.50 ERA in that span.

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In an upcoming offseason in which the starting pitching class isn’t necessarily the strongest, but headlined by the likes of Jake Arrieta, and potentially Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, Cobb could be one of the more sought after starters.

Cobb can slot in as a middle-rotation guy, and particularly for the Cubs, could slot in behind Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and Jon Lester.

The 30-year-old had an excellent bounce-back year in 2017, as he missed nearly all of 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery for a partially torn UCL.

More connections

One benefit for Chicago and Cobb to potentially reach out to one another could revolve around the pitcher’s familiarity with Hickey, his former manager in Maddon, and even former teammates in Ben Zobrist and Wade Davis, a free agent in his own right. But at what cost for the starter?

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That might depend on a few factors.

Cobb comes off a healthy 2017, and it’s the issue of his health that has been a concern for the right-hander. He just threw his most innings in any season (179.1) and made 29 career starts, a career-high.

Teams will likely offer at least three years for Cobb’s services. In the past, he rejected offers from the Rays for $30 and $40 million, after his second and third seasons, respectively. Aside from the UCL injury, he has also dealt with blood clots and was hit by a line drive in 2013.

Second-half improvement

Cobb could act as a perfect stopgap pitcher for Chicago as they develop pitchers in their system, or wait on more expensive free agents. Especially as Arrieta and John Lackey leave, and they look to add depth after injuries in 2016, and the failed  Brent Anderson experiment.

Cobb was one of the best in 2017 in terms of BB/9 (2.21), ranking 12th among all qualified starters. That rate was also the best of his career. His 1.10 HR/9 tied him with Quintana and 21st among all qualified starters. This was an area that was still among the highest per individual seasons for Cobb.

His 3.66 ERA led his team, as Rays starters came in top five in league ERA.

FanGraphs goes more in depth about how Cobb began to transform back into the pitcher he was pre-injury, as his second-half of the 2017 season capped off a nice year. Though Cobb did not set the world on fire with strikeouts (6.42 K/9), his strikeout percentage climbed to 20 percent in the second-half. Up from 15.8 percent for the first-half.

Cobb has thrown his split-change mostly throughout his career but relied more on his curveball in 2017. A career-high 34.1 percent of the time. His groundball rate dropped, and his line-drive rate increased, but his GB percentage also improved in the second-half. Hitters pounded the ball into the ground 52.3 percent of the time, which is more indicative of his career averages.

Next: Chicago Cubs: What is Ben Zobrist’s role moving forward?

As Cobb continues evolving beyond injuries and refines his mechanics, Chicago could be an attractive landing spot for Cobb. A familiar guide by the name of Jim Hickey and playoff contention could help entice the free agent pitcher.