Orioles' Alex Cobb showed Boston why he could be an Aug. 31 target


Alex Cobb didn't just beat the Red Sox on Saturday. He may have been auditioning for them.

With the American League playoff field expanded to eight teams and the Red Sox fielding one of the worst starting staffs in baseball, pitching will be on the agenda prior to the Aug. 31 trade deadline.

The only problem is, relatively few teams project to be eliminated from contention at that point, after only about 35 games.

The Orioles, however, should definitely be one of them, which means their roster can be stripped for parts. And if Cobb continues throwing like he did on Saturday, when he aggressively spotted a 92 mph fastball to both corners and featured a splitter with some of its old bite, there will be a market for his services.

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No one knows what Cobb can do better than Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who was a young executive in Tampa when the Rays selected Cobb in the fourth round of the 2006 draft out of Vero Beach High School.

Bloom was cutting his teeth in player development when Cobb climbed through Tampa's system. The righty reached the big leagues in 2011 and blossomed into one of the American League's best young pitchers in 2013 and 2014, going 21-12 with a 2.82 ERA in 309 innings.

Just when Cobb looked like Tampa's next young ace, though, he underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the entire 2015 season. He returned to go 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 2017, earning a four-year, $57 million contract from the Orioles that winter.

He hasn't remotely delivered since, going 5-15, 4.90 in 2018 and throwing just 12.1 innings last year, thanks to hip and back injuries.

The strange contours of the 2020 season could make him a valuable commodity, however, even though he's earning a prorated portion of $14 million this year and is due $15 million next year. Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, for one, believes Cobb will be on the block, which makes sense. The Orioles aren't going anywhere with him, and they'd surely love to take his money off the books.

Could the Red Sox be a fit after watching him toss 5.1 innings of one-run ball on Saturday while striking out six and walking none? They were certainly stymied by his stuff. He produced seven swings and misses on his splitter, the signature pitch that he could barely throw when he returned from Tommy John in 2016.

"There were days where I was so lost, and physically I didn't feel like I'd get back to where I was, but in the back of my mind, I've always known I'll get better and I'll get back to being the pitcher I was four or five years ago," Cobb told the Baltimore media. "It's definitely a day-to-day feeling, but in the back of my mind, I do believe if I put the work in, the results will come."

The Red Sox have a month to figure out if the 32-year-old belongs on their radar. His contract includes deferrals and a 10-team no-trade, and there's also the matter of only making trades out of each team's 60-player pool (as laid out in this Baltimore Sun piece) so acquiring him won't be as straightforward as past trade deadlines, but he's certainly worth following to see if Saturday's performance was real or a one-off.

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