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The Orioles are working to trade Alex Cobb to the Angels

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The Athletic has reported that the Orioles are sending Cobb to the Angels for Jahmai Jones, though the deal is not yet final.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

The Orioles and the Angels have struck another trade, or at least they’re trying to. On Monday morning, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Dan Connolly reported on a surprise: The O’s and Angels are working on a deal that would send Alex Cobb out to California.

Later on Monday afternoon, Rosenthal and his The Athletic colleague Fabian Ardaya reported that the player going from Los Angeles to Baltimore is second base/outfield prospect Jahmai Jones, the Angels second round pick in the 2015 draft. At about 6pm, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported that the deal has been agreed to, though it will require commissioner’s office approval to be finalized. That approval is required due to the amount of money being sent by the Orioles to the Angels.

Jones appeared in three games for the Angels at the MLB level in 2020. He spent the 2019 season at Double-A Mobile, where he was not very good, batting .234/.308/.324. This was only his age 21 season, though, so that’s not as bad as if he’d been older and hitting like that. In the Arizona Fall League in 2019, he hit .302/.377/.509. I’ll take a guess that Mike Elias’s analytics department noticed the AFL performance.

Heading into the 2021 season, Jones is 23 years old. That’s still on the young side for a player to be interesting. Jones rated as MLB Pipeline’s #7 Angels prospect to close out the 2020 season. He was #11 in the Angels system on Fangraphs before 2020, at the 40+ Future Value tier, or about the same level of prospect as Dean Kremer and Keegan Akin were at this time last year.

FG’s Eric Longenhagen concluded his report on Jones, published last June, with this prediction:

I’m still betting on Jones’ makeup and athleticism, and think he’ll find a way to be a 1.5 to 2 WAR role player who sees time at second base and in left field.

One immediate response to the idea that the Orioles just acquired a high minors player with 1.5-2 WAR potential in the process of getting rid of Cobb is: “Hell yeah!”

It’s not a surprise is that the Orioles, in cost-cutting mode, would have been looking to deal Cobb, who is set to make $15 million for the 2021 season. That represents the second-largest expense on the payroll behind Chris Davis. What’s a surprise to me is that some other team wanted Cobb, 33, who has been either disappointing, hurt, or both since his signing a four-year, $57 million contract in late March three years ago made him Dan Duquette’s last idiotic signing.

This marks the third trade between the Orioles and Angels in the last 14 months. The teams agreed on a four-for-one swap that sent Dylan Bundy out west in December 2019, and a two-for-one swap that landed Jose Iglesias in Anaheim two months ago.

Bundy excelled in the shortened 2020 season after being traded to the more friendly pitcher park of Angel Stadium of Anaheim, going from a 4.79 ERA and 4.73 FIP in his final year as an Oriole to a 3.29 ERA and 2.95 FIP in 11 starts as an Angel.

Perhaps the Angels front office thinks that they can work that magic again. Even with Bundy’s significant post-trade improvement, the Angels starting pitchers had the second-worst ERA among all MLB teams in 2020. As far as Cobb goes, they might need some magic to make it work. His peripheral stats were among the worst in baseball last season, including just 6th percentile in exit velocity allowed and 13th percentile in fastball spin rate. Nobody tell the Angels until the deal is done, OK?

The morning’s rumored trade dragged out through the afternoon without going official. Among the details that had to be worked out was how much money the Orioles will send to the Angels of the $15 million that Cobb is owed for the 2021 season. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that the Orioles are expected to pick up more than half of the money owed to Cobb.

That may end up being a mix of money sent to the Angels that will be paid to Cobb in 2021, plus the Orioles just being the team to pay some of the deferred money Cobb is set to receive. Per Cot’s Contracts, Cobb has $4.5 million deferred out of his 2021 salary. There was also a clause to have $5.5 million of the 2021 salary deferred if Cobb did not pitch 130 innings in the 2020 season. It’s not immediately clear whether the pandemic-shortened season affected the status of that clause. If not, then $10 million of the $15 million Cobb is owed for 2021 is deferred.

Trading Cobb opens up a spot in the Orioles rotation for the start of the season. We can probably figure three spots are set in stone between John Means, Keegan Akin, and Dean Kremer. Maybe a fourth could go to someone like Bruce Zimmermann, or even one of the Rule 5 picks.

Prospects like Zac Lowther and Michael Baumann are not likely to get the fifth spot right at the start of the season, so some Wade LeBlanc-tier veteran minor league depth signings figure to be coming soon.