Even in an offseason rife with gulfs between what players are asking and what teams are offering, Alex Cobb’s situation stands out. Clearly at the top of the second tier of starting pitchers in this class, Cobb still carries enough risk to limit both the years and average annual value he’d receive. Or so everyone thought.
Knowing that the two pitchers above him were going to be asking for roughly three times what he was projected to earn, Cobb’s camp figured they had a little room to up their own target. Hence, the man who had openly expressed his affinity for Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey and said he’d “hopefully come to a deal” with the Cubs remains unsigned.
The inimitable David Kaplan joined the Cubs Talk Podcast to discuss the slow offseason and shared some details on the Cubs’ offer to Cobb and where things stand currently.
“So Alex told a friend of mine that the Cubs called him and said, ‘Hey, man, you want the (Tyler) Chatwood contract [three years, $38 million], we’re all-in,'” Kaplan revealed. “That’s what they tried to get him to take. It was actually 3/42, which is $14 million a year, three years.
“And he was interested, and he started…his agent (started) saying, ‘Well wait a minute, I think there’s a whole lot more money out there.’ He’s not looking…he claims he’s not asking for $80 million. He’s not. That it’s far less than that, but it’s more than three times 42 and I don’t think Theo wants to go more than three years with him.”
The bit about Cobb wanting less than $80 million is interesting, particularly since we’ve heard that his increased demands were what sent the Cubs in the direction of Yu Darvish and even Jake Arrieta. While both are viewed as big upgrades over Cobb, you’re talking about a 40 percent jump between that number above and the low-end offer of four years and $110 million the Cubs are reportedly willing to give Arrieta.
Then you’ve got Darvish, who should command even more than that. How much better would a pitcher have to be in order to justify an additional $8-10 million or so in AAV? The simple answer is, “A helluva lot,” but you’ve also got to factor in what that extra money can be used for. Namely, another pitcher or more flexibility for Bryce Harper next winter.
Despite the marked gap in their figures, I still believe Cobb is very much in play for the Cubs and vice versa. However, it’s probably going to take an extra year and a few million dollars more in order to get it done. If we believe Kaplan’s account (and I do) that Cobb was ready to go at $42 million for three years, much less than he was projected to get in a new deal, it lends credence to the fact that the pitcher really want(ed/s) to be in Chicago.
But what are we to make of the idea that Cobb is actually looking for “far less” than $80 million? Given that we can’t quantify such a phrase, it could probably be anywhere from $60-76 million. Even at the high end of that, you’re talking about less than $19 million AAV over four years. All things considered, that’d be palatable for the Cubs from a luxury tax perspective. The big question, though, is whether they’re willing to commit to a fourth year.
The answer to that question may lie with those same two pitchers who got Cobb’s agent to inflate his client’s value in the first place. Should Arrieta and Darvish be unwilling to go lower than five years, pushing to a fourth on Cobb might be a much better option. Not only are you paying less AAV over each year of the deal, but you’re not paying $25-30 million for a 36-year-old pitcher in 2022.
I have no doubt that the Cubs have been earnest and forthright in their pursuit of various pitchers via both free agency and trade, but I also think their moves have been orchestrated to gain as much leverage as possible. That’s not just about Cobb, it’s with all the parties involved. That said, I have long thought that Cobb made the most sense for them.