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Alex Cobb is on the trade block, but don’t expect much of a return for him

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Rumors from the winter meetings in Las Vegas have the Orioles shopping veteran starting pitcher Alex Cobb, but his value is limited.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Apart from a new manager false alarm, it has been a very quiet winter meetings for Baltimore. While other teams were taking turns at the podium to announce trades and signings, Mike Elias and the Orioles contingent has seemed content to stay in the background for the most part.

The Orioles have plenty of needs, including help in the outfield, middle infield, catcher and rotation, to name a few spots. They could fill a lot of these openings internally with young players, or opt to wait out the free agent market and sign a few veterans closer to spring training.

Bu who really knows what groundwork has been laid for future transactions in Las Vegas? One interesting bit of information did leak out, courtesy of Roch Kubatko.

Alex Cobb and fellow right-hander Andrew Cashner are the two veteran holdovers from the rotation last year. Neither one had a season to remember. But for Cobb, it was a tale of two halves.

As you may remember, Cobb signed about a month into spring training last year and he did not even start the season in the rotation. His first start came a few weeks in, on April 14. When he faltered out of the gates, a lot of fans and pundits alike attributed his poor first half of 2018 to the late signing and the lack of a full spring training.

Cobb’s first six starts last year were all losses. He pitched fewer than six innings in all but two of those first six starts.

But if you look at his splits in the first half of the season versus the second half, there was a marked improvement in the latter. In 17 games started (92.2 innings) before the All-Star break, Cobb was 2-12 with a 6.41 ERA while opponents hit a shocking .313 against him. In 11 starts after the break (59.2 innings), he went 3-3 with a 2.56 ERA and .232 opponents’ batting average. He even pitched a complete game in the second half.

When you put those two halves together, Cobb’s season-long stats look like this: 152.1 innings pitched, 5-15 record, 4.90 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 43 walks, 102 strikeouts and a .284 OBA.

For his career, the righty has allowed an average of 8.7 H/9 and 0.9 HR/9. During the 2018 season, those figures were up, at 10.2 and 1.4, respectively. Also, Cobb owns a career average 7.1 SO/9 and 2.72 SO/W. Those numbers were down this past season, at 6.0 and 2.37, respectively.

But in order to prop up his trade value, the Orioles are sure to emphasize Cobb’s superior second half numbers in 2018.

The veteran right-hander just may not have a spot on a rebuilding club like Baltimore, despite the need for reliable innings eaters in a young rotation. Andrew Cashner may be ticketed to serve that role, making Cobb somewhat redundant on a team that wants to build for the future and see what it has in its young players.

Despite Cashner’s inferior numbers — he had a 5.29 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 2018 — he may be the preferred veteran option at the back end of the rotation next year. With one year remaining on his contract at $9.5 million, according to Baseball Reference, Cashner is signed at a lower rate and for a shorter amount of time than Cobb.

And despite having a $10 million 2020 option that vests with 340 total innings pitched over the 2018-19 seasons, Cashner only pitched 153 innings last year. So the O’s could find creative ways to limit his innings next year to ensure the option does not vest.

Even with Cobb’s strong second half in 2018, it seems like a stretch to assume the O’s will get a lot of value back for him. As stated earlier in Roch’s tweet, the Orioles may sweeten the pot in a future deal by kicking in some money. And an earlier tweet from Roch yielded the following tidbit.

So on one hand, the Orioles could include money in a Cobb trade, and on the other hand, they may be more inclined to trade a young player in a package deal. Put those two notions together, and it sounds like the O’s just want to be rid of Cobb’s remaining years and salary for roster flexibility.

That, along with the veteran’s poor overall numbers in Baltimore, dampens the expected return in a trade. Maybe the Orioles get back a middling prospect, role player or late bloomer. But if the O’s decide to deal Cobb in the end, I would not hold out hope of getting anything substantial in return.