Before we start discussing what Alex Cobb‘s injury means for the Tampa Bay Rays, we need to mention what it doesn’t mean: any concern for the team’s rotation. A starting five of Chris Archer, Drew Smyly, Jake Odorizzi, Nate Karns, and Alex Colome is extremely good, and it will only get better once Matt Moore returns, presumably some time in June. The Rays would be better with Cobb, but their rotation remains excellent and the question will be whether they score enough runs for that to matter.
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Instead, when we delve deeper into the situation surrounding Cobb following the partially torn ligament in his elbow, we ignore the short-term almost entirely and talk about the future. We have to expect that Alex Cobb will need Tommy John Surgery at some point in the next few years if not the next few months, and the Rays’ dream scenario is him returning in August at this point. On the other hand, if his rehab before surgery fails, there is a high probability that he will pitch in five games or less before 2017, his last year until team control with the Rays.
The Tampa Bay Rays are paying Alex Cobb $4 milllion this season in his first go-around through arbitration. Next year, they will end up paying him a similar figure because he will have logged few major league games if any. That could easily go down as $8 million down the drain for a team that needs every penny it can get. That is $8 million spent on an injured player at a position where the Rays don’t even need help. How does that make any sense?
Could the Rays non-tender Cobb following the season? They almost surely won’t because somebody with more money would be glad to pay him several million dollars to rehab for a year and pitch in the second year of a contract. Kris Medlen received two years and $8.5 million guaranteed from the Kansas City Royals coming off a second Tommy John Surgery, and though Cobb would be undergoing surgery later in the year, he may still get that figure or more if he hits the open market. It’s easy to picture it–Cobb signs with the Yankees and burns the Rays in 2017.
Alex Cobb was probably going to be traded, and following this season or next might have been the right time. Instead, that plan is out the window, although I’m sure the Rays would be glad to listen to offers and hear about whatever the prospect equivalent is of $8.5 million over two years. One irony is that this is the perfect time for the Rays to talk with Cobb about an extension given that they have all the leverage. Why not offer Cobb $20 million over five years and see if he will trade three free agent years in exchange for financial stability?
We can say that the Tampa Bay Rays have options, but there aren’t many worse sets of circumstances for them than a pitcher approaching free agency needing to undergo surgery. Best of luck to Alex Cobb in his rehab–the hope is that most of my points from this piece will be moot–but there is an uncomfortably high chance that this situation is going to drive Matt Silverman and the Rays’ office absolutely nuts in the coming months.