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Alex Cobb trade a win all around for still rebuilding Orioles

It may not be the kind of move Orioles fans longing for a competitive team wanted to see. But dealing Cobb to the Angels makes sense, especially given the return.

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

You may be one of those fans who talked themselves into thinking the Orioles had skipped a few steps on the rebuilding trail after a more-competitive-than-expected 2020 season.

And this offseason is reminding you that, no no, this is going to be a journey without any shortcuts.

The departures of Jose Iglesias and Hanser Alberto likely clued you in, but if you still needed convincing, you got it Monday when the Orioles wrapped up a deal that sends Alex Cobb to the Angels for second baseman Jahmai Jones.

So there goes the veteran leader of the Orioles staff, in exchange for another prospect, providing yet another sign that winning baseball in Baltimore is still a ways away.

But this is a move to feel good about. Both because of the player leaving, and the player coming in.

Start with the first part. Cobb was the last big move the Orioles made in the white dwarf stage of their competitive run. While the team imploded around him, Cobb likewise didn’t meet the expectations and hopes the Orioles had when they brought him in. He went 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA in that first season in 2018, then made only three starts in 2019 before missing the rest of the season with an injury.

He pitched better last year, but was still far from his Tampa Bay peak with a 2-5 record, 4.30 ERA and 1.338 WHIP. There was no longer a question as to whether Cobb could be a reliable No. 1 pitcher for the Orioles; rather, the question was whether Cobb’s name still had enough cachet around the league to provide any trade value.

The fact that it did is encouraging enough. Being able to deal a 33-year-old pitcher who may not have much left and get anything back at all is pretty good — it’s reminiscent of the Andrew Cashner deal — and the Orioles are better off giving those starts to a younger pitcher who’s hoping to develop into more of a contributor down the road.

The real reason to be happy with this move, however, is the return.

No, Jones isn’t some can’t-miss stud coming in. But these trades, in which a so-so veteran is dealt to a contender, so often result in an unimpressive slew of names coming back. Again, think of the Cashner trade, which netted the Orioles a pair of 17-year-old Dominican Summer League prospects, neither one of whom was considered poised for a fast rise through the Boston or Baltimore systems. Usually, with these trades, you get a few players back, and you just hope one of them sticks.

That’s not what this is. Jones was a second-round pick in 2015. He was the Angels’ seventh-ranked prospect at the time of the deal. He’s been a consistent top-five prospect since he was drafted, peaking at No. 2 in 2016. This is a player for whom the Angels had high hopes.

The Orioles didn’t get filler with this trade. They got potential.

The key word two paragraphs ago was “had,” and it’s true that the reason the Orioles could get him is likely because Jones’s ascension hasn’t panned out as expected. He hit .245 and .234 in his last two cracks at Double-A, and the offensive stats haven’t matched the level of hype he received upon entering the Los Angeles system. Statistically, there’s not much to suggest Jones is about to wake up and be a major league caliber second baseman.

But that’s not the point. The point is that the Orioles turned a pitcher with what was projected to be little to no trade value into a player deemed to have a high ceiling, one who when last seen playing had the bat speed and extra-base potential to be a strong big league hitter. That’s the sort of move a rebuilding team needs to be making.

Furthermore, it’s a position of need. The Orioles didn’t just throw another name into their crowded outfield picture; instead, the arrival of a second baseman in Jones fills a spot that until recently was looking unresolved. The O’s two highest second base prospects, Adam Hall and Rylan Bannon, have had encouraging minor league careers so far, but Hall has only played as high as Single-A Delmarva, and Bannon batted .317 in 82 at-bats in Triple-A Norfolk in 2019, but only .255 (albeit, with a .345 on-base percentage) in 388 at-bats in Double-A Bowie.

Those are two solid prospects, but Jones’s arrival only strengthens the pipeline at second base. And with Gold Glover Yolmer Sanchez in the fold and handling the job for 2021, there’s no rush for anyone to take on more than he can handle.

That’s what the Orioles got with this trade. They got potential, a lottery ticket that just might pay off down the road.

Considering what they gave up to get it, that’s not a bad move at all.