An offseason of cost cutting on and off the field continued for the Orioles on Monday as starting pitcher Alex Cobb becomes the latest individual to depart.
Baltimore traded the veteran to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for minor-league second baseman Jahmai Jones. It marks the third swap between the clubs in the last 14 months after the Orioles sent starting pitcher Dylan Bundy to the Angels last offseason and dealt shortstop Jose Iglesias to Los Angeles in early December with the Orioles fetching a total of six minor-league pitchers in those trades. Per multiple reports, the financial aspect of the trade was the primary holdup with the Orioles paying $10 million of the $15 million owed to Cobb for 2021, the final season of a four-year, $57 million contract. That allowed Elias to essentially “buy” a more interesting prospect.
Jones, 23, was a second-round pick in the 2015 amateur draft and was the Angels’ No. 7 prospect, according to MLB.com. The right-handed-hitting infielder made his major league debut last August — going 3-for-7 — and owns a career .258/.338/.386 slash line in five minor-league seasons. Jones also plays the outfield and shows above-average speed with 96 career stolen bases in the minors.
With the club still in the midst of a lengthy rebuild and Cobb having the second-highest salary on the roster behind first baseman Chris Davis, the right-hander had been a logical trade candidate since general manager Mike Elias was hired after the 2018 season. However, Elias had seemingly downplayed the likelihood of Cobb being traded earlier this offseason, speaking favorably about his leadership and ability to anchor what projects to be a very inexperienced starting rotation in 2021.
The last notable free-agent signing of the Dan Duquette era, Cobb was a disappointment in Baltimore with a 5.10 ERA and just 1.8 wins above replacement in 41 starts over three seasons. After injuries limited the 33-year-old to just three starts in 2019, Cobb rebounded with a respectable 4.30 ERA in 10 starts covering 52 1/3 innings in the abbreviated 2020 campaign. He averaged 6.5 strikeouts, 3.1 walks, and 1.4 home runs allowed per nine innings last year.
Cobb will now be reunited with Angels manager Joe Maddon, who was his manager in Tampa Bay at the start of his major league career.
Removing Cobb from the rotation picture puts even more pressure on 28-year-old lefty John Means, who was already the favorite to start on Opening Day. Rookies Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin are good bets to make the club out of spring training after promising debuts last season, but the remaining rotation spots appear wide open with rookie Bruce Zimmermann, 2020 waiver claim Jorge Lopez, and Rule 5 picks Mac Sceroler and Tyler Wells among those in the mix. The Orioles also added pitching prospects Michael Baumann, Zac Lowther, and Alexander Wells to their 40-man roster this offseason.
The Cobb trade likely increases the odds of Elias adding a veteran starting option or two on the cheap as was the case last year when journeymen lefties Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc signed minor-league deals with invitations to spring training. Both ended up being part of the rotation to begin the season in late July.
With Cobb’s departure, the Orioles have just two players — Davis and Trey Mancini – scheduled to make more than $3 million in 2021. In addition to trading Iglesias two months ago, Baltimore elected not to tender contracts to infielders Hanser Alberto and Renato Nunez, who were both set for raises in salary arbitration. Alberto signed a minor-league deal with Kansas City over the weekend while Nunez remains unsigned.