ORLANDO, Fla. – The way the Cubs look at filling their pitching needs this winter, the bullpen gaps – even when it comes to the closer – are the least of their worries.
That’s why much of their creative effort and resources are being earmarked for their pursuit of at least two starting pitchers – at least one they can project as a mid-rotation-or-better solution in 2018 in the wake of Jake Arrieta’s and John Lackey’s free agency.
The key could be Alex Cobb, the Tampa Bay Rays free agent right-hander, who looks like the top free agent fit for the Cubs as the offseason kicked into gear with the general managers meetings this week at the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando – and who seems to agree, considering recent comments on the Cubs during an MLB radio interview.
Those close to Cobb say he is prioritizing clubhouse chemistry and personal fit, along with the chance to win, as he sorts through an early list of suitors numbering close to 10 teams.
The Cubs already have his first big-league manager in place, just hired the only big-league pitching coach he has known, and sources say the Cubs have had multiple preliminary conversations with Cobb’s agent – none of them involving any kind of contract parameters.
“I don’t hide the fact that I have the most respect for [Cubs manager] Joe Maddon and what he did for me coming up as a player, and not so much as a pitcher on the mound, but as a professional athlete and professional baseball player,” Cobb said during the interview. “It had to deal with the stresses that come with a big-league lifestyle. There’s nobody better in the game to control and deal with people as he is.”
Cobb is even tighter with new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey. “He’s not only a good pitching coach, but a real close friend of mine,” Cobb said.
Cobb, who’s almost 30 months removed from Tommy John surgery, suggested to MLB radio he’s looking for five years as he comes off a career-high 29 starts and 179 1/3 innings in his first full season back. He went 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA for a losing Rays team.
The Cubs, who aren’t expected to go after the anticipated market setters (Arrieta, Yu Darvish), are looking at almost every other option for adding starters who could join Jose Quintana, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks in the rotation.
They’ve also talked with Cardinals free agent Lance Lynn’s agent, among that next tier of starters and are looking for potential trade fits – although general manager Jed Hoyer on Tuesday tempered the notion the Cubs are as willing to part with big-league roster pieces as it might seem.
He emphasized how important to their success that their depth has been at several positions the last three seasons. “You can’t ignore that,” he said.
A successful courtship of Cobb – the 39th-ranked big-league starter in WAR (per Fangraphs) – could significantly clarify the means to checking off the rest of their winter wish list.
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Source:: Chicago Sun-Times – Sports