The St. Louis Cardinals are searching for a number of upgrades this offseason. However, they seem intent on a pitching rotation consisting of Carlos Martinez, Michael Wacha, Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, and Luke Weaver. With question marks in the rotation, they should consider pursuing free agent pitcher Alex Cobb to fortify the rotation.
Cobb has largely flown under the radar this offseason, with bigger starting pitching names like Shohei Otani, Yu Darvish, and Jake Arrieta garnering much of the attention. The Cardinals have been recently connected to Arrieta, but if his asking price is too high, they have another option in Cobb.
The Cardinals appear confident in their rotation as it stands, but the staff isn’t without its uncertainty. Wacha has a history of health complications. Wainwright has regressed the previous two seasons. Mikolas hasn’t appeared in the MLB since 2014. Weaver has never pitched a full season in a rotation, and has less than 100 career major-league innings under his belt.
Signing Cobb would ensure him a spot in the starting rotation, but whose place would he take? The Cardinals don’t need to answer that question right now. That’s what spring training is for. What if Wacha’s shoulder troubles him in the spring? What if Wainwright just doesn’t have it? What if Weaver or Mikolas isn’t ready to go?
Unless the curse of the billy goat came upon the Cardinals, there’s no way lightning would strike four times and knock out 80 percent of their rotation. But, one of the above questions could happen, and the Cardinals should be prepared for an alternative to the rotation.
Jack Flaherty started five games for the Cardinals in September, but wasn’t great. He’ll likely begin the year in the minors. The same is the case with top prospect Alex Reyes, who had Tommy John surgery last spring. Dakota Hudson has yet to make his major league debut.
Back to Alex Cobb. He’d help fill the void left by Lance Lynn and Mike Leake. He’s never been a dominant innings-eater, but he has good stuff and has put together a respectable career with the Tampa Bay Rays to date. He’s 30 years old, so the next contract he signs will be during the prime years of his pitching career.
Last season, Cobb made 29 starts and went 12-10 with a 3.66 earned run average, good for 2.3 wins above replacement. Baseball reference projects Cobb to go 9-9 with a 4.20 ERA in 152 innings pitched in 2018, which seems like a glass-half-empty outlook. For his career, Cobb is 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 starts. Those are adequate middle-to-top of the rotation numbers.
Cobb has battled health troubles in his career, which may make a team like the Cardinals hesitant to sign him. He also received a qualifying offer from the Rays, so signing Cobb would cost St. Louis a compensation draft pick. But if the Cardinals are intent on competing for a division title, they’ll consider getting better in any area they can by any means possible.
Another reason for the Cardinals to pursue Cobb is it appears the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers are currently the frontrunners for the right-hander. Were the Cardinals to leave the Cobb sweepstakes to two division rivals, not only would they be thin in the starting rotation, but they’d have to face Cobb multiple times a season in division matchups. Current Cardinals are hitting just .158 against Cobb.
The Cardinals’ front office promises it isn’t done this offseason. They want to, and will add a closer before spring training. If they aren’t able to land another big bat, they should consider using their resources to land another starting pitcher instead.