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Shortened season has pros and cons for Alex Cobb and Orioles

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A short window between now and the trade deadline could help Cobb’s trade value, but a season of uncertainty may reduce the demand for the veteran right-hander.

Baltimore Orioles v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

It’s a little early for longer-term speculation regarding the Orioles this season. But on the other hand, there are also only 57 games left this season, so, here goes.

Of all the positive storylines to come out of the more-pleasant-as-it-went-on opening series with the Red Sox, the best may have occurred Saturday, when Alex Cobb, 5-17 over his first two years with the Orioles, went out and picked up the win with 5.1 innings of one-run ball.

That’s no small feat. There may be fewer quality pitchers in the Boston organization than there were fans in the Fenway stands, but the Sox can hit. Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Andrew Benintendi, those are sluggers. And Cobb rolled right through them. Four hits allowed, six strikeouts, no walks. Pretty clean.

It was the form the Orioles were counting on and to which Cobb was hoping he could return following season-ending hip injury. We’ll see if it continues.

Let’s say it does. The cut-down length and overall uncertainty of this season could either help or hurt the O’s as they look to get something for their No. 1 starter.

The Orioles will certainly be interested if anyone calls with interest in Cobb. Manny Machado, Zack Britton and Jonathan Schoop were the chips in 2018, Andrew Cashner, Dylan Bundy, Jonathan Villar and Trey Mancini were the names thrown around last year, and Cobb projects best as the player who could be a desired asset for a playoff hopeful this time.

So, what’s the good news?

It’s two-fold. One positive is that, with the trade deadline likely to be moved up to Aug. 31, the sample size is smaller for Cobb. In a normal season, teams have all of April, May, June and July to evaluate anyone they might be seeking. That’s a good chunk of time, and there are plenty of opportunities for someone off to a hot start to cool significantly and see his trade value plummet.

This year, early impressions will matter more, and Cobb has a good one on the books already. He’ll make, barring injury, around seven starts before the deadline. If he can keep his strong outings going for three, four, five starts, his stock could be all set. Imagine how many players who got off to strong Aprils could have generated some major trade interest if the deadline were April 30 and they didn’t also have to keep it up for May, June and July.

The other positive is the 16-team playoff field, which allows more teams to think of themselves as playoff contenders, and could entice one or two that wouldn’t normally make much use of the deadline to consider themselves buyers. If you project yourself as a .500 team in a normal season, making a big splash often isn’t worth it. You know you’re not good enough to seriously contend, and therefore, not good enough to make that move.

In a year, though, where a single winning streak could get you into a playoff race you didn’t expect in February to be in? That’s a different story, and a team could be eager to bolster its chances with the talent disparity being less defined.

(Maybe that team is the Orioles? Dare to dream, right?)

The down side? Well, that uncertainty could just as easily work against Cobb and the Orioles as well.

The season already has a gimmicky feel to it, with no fans in the stands and only 60 games on the schedule. As we’re seeing from the Marlins, a COVID outbreak could deny a team its top players at the worst possible time. There are no minor league teams playing, and so there is no farm system to hone potential out-of-nowhere contributors to a playoff run.

If there’s ever a year for a team with a true postseason-worthy roster to get a string of bad luck and miss the playoffs entirely or get knocked off by an inferior team, this is it. If you’re the Yankees or the Dodgers, you know that with 162 games to play, you’ll be able to separate yourself from the competition. With 60 to play, who knows?

And with that backdrop, teams may just be hesitant to part with prospects to bolster their team for a run at a championship they consider, more than in any other season, to be a crap shoot.

Jon Meoli indicated as much in his story for the Baltimore Sun, adding that the picture is further complicated by a rule this year that teams can only trade players who are in their 60-man player pools. That doesn’t kill a potential Cobb deal, but it does make a team less flexible in the prospects it can offer, therefore making a trade all the more difficult.

All of this is a moot point, of course, if Cobb doesn’t continue to pitch the way he did in the opener. If he does, the trade rumors will likely continue to swirl all the way through August.

And as the day gets closer, we’ll see just how much of an effect this unusual season has on his market.