Does an Alex Cobb signing make any sense for the Dodgers?

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The Dodgers were relatively quiet this offseason. Aside from the Charlie Culberson trade, the Dodgers’ biggest move to was to sign Tom Koehler to a $2 million deal.

Now, Koehler is out for awhile with a shoulder injury. Coincidentally or not, word is the Dodgers have at least kicked the tires on former Rays right-handed pitcher Alex Cobb on a short-term deal. On some level, it makes sense — he’s a quality pitcher who’s still available at this point of the offseason, and Andrew Friedman has the connection from his days in Tampa Bay.

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Cobb, 30, missed all of the 2015 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He made just five starts in 2016 after recovering. Prior to that, he had been a solid mid-rotation starter for Tampa Bay. From 2012-14, he had a 3.19 ERA, 3.41 FIP, .234 BAA and a 21.3 strikeout rate. In his first season back from TJ, Cobb posted a career-best 179 1/3 innings. Some of his peripherals went the other direction. His FIP increased to 4.16, his batting average against went up about 20 points, his strikeout rate dropped to 17.3 percent and his ground ball rate dropped to a career-low 47.8 percent. On the positive side, his walk rate dipped to a career-low 5.9 percent, while his .282 BABIP was in-line with his pre-TJ number of .286, despite allowing a career-worst line drive rate (22.0) and hard contact rate (36.9). Both his line drive and hard contact rates were in the bottom 10 of qualified starters last season.

It’s not all bad regarding his strikeouts. In the second half, Cobb’s strikeout rate was more a bit more normal. He struck out 20 percent of the hitters he faced, compared to 15.8 in the first half. He saw an increase in swinging strikes on his sinker and curveball, but in August and September, his whiff rate on his splitter plummeted, partly because he stopped throwing it.

Cobb has never been a power pitcher, but his velocity in 2017 was back to pre-TJ levels (91.7 MPH). He operates with that sinker, a curveball and a split-finger fastball. Before TJ, he threw splitter no less than 33 percent of the time, and it topped out at 38.1 percent. In 2017, Cobb threw it just 14.4 percent of the time. His curveball usage spiked to 34.1 percent after topping out at 23.6 percent in 2013. Perhaps a sinker-curveball-dominated repertoire is better-suited for this version of Cobb.

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Cobb turned down the $17.4 million qualifying offer prior to free agency, meaning if the Dodgers were to sign him, they’d forfeit their 2nd- and 5th-highest picks in the upcoming draft, as well as $500,000 of their $4.75 million international spending money for the 2018-19 signing period. The Dodgers have been reluctant to sign free agents with the qualifying offer attached to them up to this point, but this market is different than any other one in recent years.

A potential Cobb signing also could push the Dodgers up against or over the luxury tax, something they wouldn’t exceed to bring back Yu Darvish. That makes me think this is mostly just the front office trying to seize an opportunity to buy low. And seeing as Lance Lynn got a $12 million deal for a year from the Twins on Saturday, nabbing Cobb for a cheap deal doesn’t seem unlikely.

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The thing one really has to ask here is: Does Cobb make the Dodgers’ pitching staff that better enough to risk the luxury tax, giving up draft picks and losing money to sign international amateur free agents? Sure, he makes the rotation deeper, but an argument could be made that he isn’t better than the Dodgers’ Top 4 starters — Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood and Kenta Maeda. He’s probably an upgrade over Hyun-Jin Ryu, but not enough to make it worth it.

And despite the Dodgers’ — let’s call it questionable — depth in the rotation this year, Walker Buehler, Brock Stewart and friends should be able to get the Dodgers through to July before an addition may (or may not) be necessary.

Frankly, it’s shocking the Brewers haven’t signed him yet.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.