Once the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton in December, it seemed like most of baseball quietly resigned the AL East to the team from the Bronx. Yeah, Boston is good, but not great, and Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Baltimore were far behind those two. If New York got a similar season out of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez like they did in 2017, the added power of the 28-year-old Stanton would push them over the top and lead them to at least an AL East title.
An arm added
While I think that will still happen, I believe Baltimore has thrown themselves closer to the mix with the signing of Alex Cobb for $57m over four years, per Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports. Far from a household name, Cobb is a solid starting pitcher with a career ERA of 3.50 and a strikeout total of 570 in six years of MLB service. Not mind-numbing numbers by any stretch, but definitely numbers that will raise a few eyebrows around the league.
The signing of Cobb doesn't come risk-free, however. Cobb had Tommy John surgery, which kept him out entirely in the 2015 season and for most of the 2016 season as well. He bounced back in 2017, posting a 3.66 ERA with 149 strikeouts, his most ever. But, the elbow will always be a point of concern for Cobb. Once you've had Tommy John surgery, you always have that sword swinging precariously over your head.
Cobb is not the Orioles' only move this offseason. They've also signed Andrew Cashner, coming off a solid 2017 with a 3.40 ERA. The Orioles desperately needed new life in their rotation, as they struggled mightily last year, posting a staff ERA of 4.97. The Orioles hope Cashner and Cobb can come in and calm down an otherwise frantic organization as they attempt to pull back into contention in the AL East.
What they mean for Baltimore
I'm interested to see where in the rotation the Orioles use Cobb and Cashner. My immediate reaction is behind Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy, both of whom had decent to good seasons last year, but they may even move them up to the second and third spots behind Gausman. I doubt that will happen, as I see the signing of Cobb and Cashner as a way to fill out the middle of the rotation, as both men have done for a large part of their careers.
Singing Cobb and Cashner are not the two last pieces to a Baltimore World Series. The Orioles will need a tremendous season and lots of luck if they hope to sniff at the playoffs this year. The American league has only been getting stronger over the past five years, and the Orioles are only playing catchup now. A strong season from Jonathan Schoop would be a good start and a good complement to the always dangerous Manny Machado, who may find himself traded at midseason if a new contract is not agreed upon. The O's will also place a lot of hope in a bounce-back season from Chris Davis, who fell off sharply last season, and from Mark Trumbo, who woefully underachieved in 2017, falling from 42 home runs to 23.
It will take a lot of work, and there will be a lot of adversity and doubt along the way, but that's nothing new for Baltimore. The addition of solid starters in Cashner and Cobb shows that the Orioles are serious about becoming a contending team, and could make the race for the AL Wild Card race very interesting in 2018 if everyone else performs accordingly.