You might have thought at the time that Lance Lynn signed his 1-year, $12 million deal that the Twins were getting a pretty good bargain. I don’t think we really understood then what a substantial deal the Twins received.
Alex Cobb, the last significant free agent starting pitcher, has reportedly signed a deal with the Baltimore Orioles that will pay him $57 million for four years of work.
Lance Lynn: 1 year, $12 million
Alex Cobb: 4 years, $57 million
The Twins are not only getting a better deal on an average yearly basis–they also didn’t tie themselves to their purchase for the long-term.
In a way, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb both have bet on themselves.
The result of Lynn’s wager is yet to be seen, but for now has him pitching on a Twins staff on a team with legitimate postseason aspirations. His counterpart, meanwhile, waited a bit longer before he landed in Baltimore on the reported 4-year deal worth at least $57 million.
Lynn’s bet is on his performance in 2018. The other part of his wager is on the fact that next year’s free agent market won’t be quite so wonky, and that the lack of a Qualifying Offer attached to his name next November will make teams a little looser with their checkbooks.
Cobb’s bet on himself appears to be the result of some fortitude in a scary offseason. The season starts next week. Some good players have settled for bad deals. Teams and owners are sitting back, looking on with glee knowing that prices aren’t what they used to be for free-agent talent. The game as a whole is more efficient than it was even 5 years ago, and that’s a good sign for anybody trying to turn a profit.
Cobb reportedly turned down a deal from the Cubs earlier this winter worth nearly $50 million. Lynn, a pitcher preferred by some teams, settled for $12 million after working for his whole adult life to get to this point. Cobb still said no and stayed on the market a while longer.
How many teams still needed a starting pitcher? The Twins appear set. The Yankees are good. The Phillies had just signed Jake Arrieta to contract in between $50 million and Yu Darvish Money. Probably the Brewers could use another arm. The Orioles always seem to need that.
The point is that there probably wasn’t a long line out the door of the room that held the Alex Cobb Bidding War. And it looks from my corner that he didn’t blink, bet on himself and has now cashed in with a significant payday. I say good for him. I don’t like that market forces — even if it’s just teams getting smarter about resource allocation — appears to have taken money out of the pocket of players while team owners get richer. But at the same time, these are the rules of the game and I have to applaud the Twins for their willingness to spend this winter and add good players at very good prices.
Both pitchers, Lynn and Cobb, missed the 2016 season following Tommy John surgery. Here is a look at how the first full year back went for each starter.
|Lance Lynn||186 1/3||3.43||19.7%||10.1%||44.0%||1.30|
|Alex Cobb||179 1/3||3.66||17.3%||5.9%||47.8%||1.10|
I wouldn’t blame you if you looked at the numbers, the pre-surgery track record and the narrative back stories and came away with a preference for Cobb over Lynn. The point is that they’re just sort of similar. They’re close in terms of past performance.
Now, considering the contracts, it looks like the Twins got the steal of the winter.
Sure, if both pitchers turn out to be great for the next 5 years, then maybe you’d rather have the Orioles’ guarantee that their guy will still be in an O’s uniform for a few more years. But that’s an awful lot of financial risk to assume that a guy with a Tommy John scar on his elbow will be a great starter for 4 years.
I’ve written on many occasions this winter that referring to this year’s free-agent class of starting pitchers as the “big 4” and then everybody else — that was being kind to at least 2 and probably 3 pitchers. From my perspective, Cobb and Darvish are not in the same category.
Here’s what I wrote about Cobb in January, when we asked if the Twins should like any of the “Big 4” at the reported asking prices. (Cobb’s was reportedly 5 years, $90 million.)
I like Cobb’s back story, I like what I’ve read about his character and his ability as a teammate, and I also like what he represents on the mound. Here’s a guy who got hurt — 2017 was his first full year back from Tommy John surgery – and came back to pitch well. And that’s only part of the story. Cobb posted a 3.66 ERA in about 180 innings with a middling 17.3% strikeout rate – and he did it without one of his biggest weapons. Whether it was injury or some other reason, Cobb ditched his split-changeup during the season. I wonder if that hurt his career-long ability to get a lot of groundballs. His ground ball rate dropped from 54% to 47.8% last year, a meaningful difference that in theory should have really crushed a starting pitcher who doesn’t hang his hat on strikeouts. Only for Cobb, it didn’t crush him. It’s possible that he’ll continue to be more of a sinker-curve ball pitcher now. And it worked for him last year.
To be clear, Cobb is not being paid like a “great starter.” Especially after you adjust for inflation, the deal is in the range of contracts signed in recent years by guys like Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Matt Garza, Brandon McCarthy, Ubaldo Jimenez and Mark Buehrle.
When you compare it with Yu Darvish’s deal in Chicago, this one is a little light. When you compare it against Lynn’s prove-it contract for one year in Minnesota, Cobb’s deal is a windfall.