SARASOTA -- The Orioles were "relentless" in their pursuit of free-agent pitcher Alex Cobb this offseason. That aggressiveness finally paid off as the O's reached a four-year deal with Cobb on Tuesday night, unveiling the new righty on Wednesday.
"It's all joy right now," said Cobb, whose deal totals $57 million, including some deferred funds. "I'm not thinking about the struggles that were going on in the offseason right now. This is all about celebrating the contract and a new chapter in my life with the Orioles. I couldn't be happier getting to know the guys, getting to know the front office. Everybody's so excited, and [it] just brings a lot of joy to us that we're going to be here for a long time."
The agreement represents a significant change in philosophy for the Orioles, who have been reluctant to enter into deals longer than three years to free-agent starters. Their last four-year pact to Ubaldo Jimenez ended up being a disappointing contract, but Cobb's camp wanted the length, and ultimately the O's decided he was worth it.
"There's some protection for the club in regard to the length of the term," executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said. "I think it was a happy medium for the player and the club.
"Alex Cobb, as we know, is a really good competitor, and he has an excellent track record, a proven track record against the American League East, which of course is the first order of business for the O's. He's got the presence to your pitching staff where he competes night in and night out and is a proven veteran starter. He gives us a little more leadership, a little more presence, and makes us all around a more competitive team."
Given how late the signing is, Cobb has agreed to begin the season in the Minors to get his innings stretched out. He'll remain in Florida for the next week, until Minor League camp ends. Then the club will evaluate things from there, Duquette said.
"He thought I was kidding. We've got a sim game going on right now," Orioles manager Buck Showalter joked of getting Cobb ready. "No, he's been pitching. Obviously, it hasn't been in games. Up to 60-70 pitches, somewhere in there. … We've already looked at some potential scenarios. I want to get some feedback from him first. We want it to be right, but we'll move as quickly as we can."
To clear a 40-man roster spot, the Orioles designated Jose Mesa Jr. for assignment. Mesa was one of three Rule 5 Draft pitchers in camp.
So what can Cobb, who has spent his entire six-season Major League career with the Rays, offer to the Orioles?
"Hopefully some consistency. We all know Alex's background. Gosh, we've seen him enough," Showalter said. "It's nice to have him on your side. Just that consistency and the feeling in the clubhouse [that] every day you go out there, you've got a chance to win. Not that we haven't before, but he certainly is a very competitive guy that's got an extended track record, and it's exciting to add him."
Cobb has a career 48-35 record with a 3.50 ERA in 115 starts. Last year, he logged a career-high 179 1/3 innings and 12 wins to go with a 3.66 ERA in what was his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Cobb didn't incorporate his changeup much into the mix. That will be added back into his repertoire this season.
"The consequence of the surgery [was] not physically, but the amount time I was away from pitching," Cobb said. "My mechanics were off quite a bit. I got to a point in the season last year where I was getting good results with two pitches. Instead of trying to break it all down and work on that in-season, I decided to just go and try to win ballgames.
"I was getting good success from those two pitches and showing that third one every once in a while. I just made a conscious decision the first month and a half into the season to do it until I can't do it anymore with those pitches and try to get outs and work on it in the offseason. I've been thrilled with everything I've worked on this offseason to get back to being that pitcher."
"It shows that obviously there's still a commitment to winning," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said of the team's spring moves. "I like the scenario. I like the fact that they risked four years. They went up to four years. That means that, 'OK, cool. This is a step.' This is not a one-year, two-year deal to just hold you over until someone's ready. This is a four-year deal saying that you can possibly be one of the anchors of the staff. That right there is a sign. It's a very good sign for the future for the other players."
Cobb was among nine free agents who received a qualifying offer this offseason, which means the signing will result in the O's forfeiting a Draft pick. Because Baltimore is among the 16 clubs that receive revenue sharing, it will lose its third-highest pick in the Draft as a result of this deal -- the No. 51 pick overall.
Cobb's addition creates welcome depth for a rotation that includes Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Cashner and Tillman. It will, initially at least, force guys such as Mike Wright Jr., Miguel Castro and Rule 5 Draft pick Nestor Cortes Jr. -- who were fighting for the No. 5 spot in the rotation -- into a competition to make the team's bullpen. Wright and Castro are out of options, and Cortes has to make the club or be offered back to his original team, the Yankees.
"[Cobb] was somebody that we had targeted, from my perspective [as] a hope thing," said Showalter, whose club had the worst starting ERA (5.70) and fewest innings (846) in the AL last year.
"Once again, ownership stepped up for us, and just from an evaluation, not putting anybody else down, but I had him right at the top. One, because we had firsthand knowledge. You get to see all the things that he brings through the length of the season. It seems like we played Tampa [Bay] 100 times. You see him in the spring, you see him during the season 20 times almost. We felt comfortable that we'd seen him so much, knowing what you're going to get."