The MLB free agency “hot stove” has never been colder. Outside of a select few in Wade Davis, Carlos Santana, and Jay Bruce, nearly all the free agents have remained unsigned. Yu Darvish [VIDEO], Mike Moustakas, and J.D. Martinez are just some of the players that remain unsigned. The reason why? Almost all of these players have a large risk attached to them. From the loss of high round draft picks to potentially crippling monetary deals at the tail end of these players’ contracts.

The Tampa Bay Rays selected Alex Cobb as a fourth-round draft pick in 2006 out of Vero Beach Vero Beach High School. Tampa Bay knew they were getting an athletically gifted pitcher.

Cobb put Major League Baseball on notice in 2011 when he pitched to a 3.42 Earned Run Average with 37 strikeouts. Cobb then showed struggles during the 2012 season. Cobb pitched to a 4.03 earned run average with 130 hits surrendered in 136 innings.

During the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Cobb continued to show improvement, pitching to an earned run average of 2.76 and 2.87 in 143 and 166 innings respectively. Just when Cobb was beginning to emerge as a premier pitcher, he was diagnosed with a partial tear of his Ulnar Collateral Ligament in his elbow at the beginning of the 2015 MLB season.

Changing the game

The biggest change Cobb made upon returning to baseball during the 2017 season has been the removal of his split-finger fastball from his pitching repertoire. Cobb also became limited to the number of splitters he could throw during a game.

During his rehab, Cobb worked on transforming his pitching repertoire by adding a four-seamed fastball, as well as a curveball. Cobb’s curveball usage in 2017 skyrocketed from 22.5 percent usage to 32.7 percent usage; leading it to become Cobb’s new premier breaking pitch. In an interview with FanGraphs, Cobb said, “getting your muscle memory right where you want it takes some time. I think that’s why the changeup is usually the last pitch to come. The other pitches aren’t affected as much by the minor movements it takes to make a successful changeup."

In 2017, Cobb began to look like his former self of three years ago. Cobb threw to an earned run average of 3.66 in 179 innings. Cobb also threw 149 strikeouts versus 44 walks. Cobb’s performance in 2017 was enough for the Rays to extend a $15 million qualifying offer to Cobb, which he declined opting to instead, bet on himself. At this point, Cobb's bet has not paid off. While Cobb has attracted interest from perennial contenders such as the Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Yankees [VIDEO] none of them have attempted to close the deal with Cobb.

In fact, it has been reported that the Cubs have offered Cobb a three-year, $52 million dollar contract to which he has declined. For teams interested in Cobb, clearly, they will have to deliver a large chunk of cash as well as a first-round draft pick to the Rays.

For teams that are contending, when your window to compete for a World Series title is so small, a first-round draft pick for a player who could give you an edge over other contenders is worth it. Plus, with Cobb, you get a player who primarily relies on his secondary breaking pitches.

Data/evidence

The second chart below this paragraph shows every pitcher in baseball this season who had at least 50 curveballs put into play during the 2017 MLB season, and then the wOBA and exit velocity allowed against it. While Cobb’s curveball gets hit hard, the walks plus on-base percentage on it is below .300. What this means is when hitters but a barrel on the baseball, they are either popping it up or smashing it into the ground. Aaron Judge was the only MLB player to hit a home run against Cobb on his curveball last season out of the 162 curveballs thrown by Cobb that had been in play.

Is Alex Cobb worth the $20+-million a season plus a first-round pick attachment? For a guy who has the potential to change a contending team's pitching rotation, it would be hard to argue against it. The price that Cobb believes his value is will end up being significantly lower than what an MLB team will be willing to pay for him.