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Rays take expensive gamble with qualifying offer to Alex Cobb

By Marc Topkin | Times Staff
Published: November 6, 2017 Updated: November 6, 2017 at 10:13 PM
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) takes the field to start the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017.

As the Rays battled for a playoff spot through the July 31 nonwaiver trade cutoff and the Aug. 31 final deal deadline, they felt that because of how much starter Alex Cobb meant on and off the field, they couldn’t afford to trade him.

But with Cobb now a free agent, they’ve decided they can’t afford to not get something in return.

And they are taking an expensive gamble in doing so, making Cobb the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer required to get draft pick compensation when he leaves.

The risk for the Rays rests in the read Cobb, 30, and his Beverly Hills Sports Council agents get on the market over the 10 days before their decision is due.

Their hope, to put it simply, is that Cobb, as one of the top four or five available starters, gets a sense that a big-bucks deal is coming — like Ian Kennedy’s five years, $70 million from Kansas City, or Mike Leake’s five years, $80 million from St. Louis — and rejects the qualifying offer so they can get that extra draft pick.

Their fear, to put it politely, is that Cobb doesn’t find enough years or dollars, that teams want to see if he gets his once-dastardly changeup back or how he holds up in another season post-Tommy John surgery before committing, and he decides to go back to the Rays and back onto the market after next season.

Because that would cause quite, in absence of more colorful terms, a mess for the Rays, who are trying to reduce their payroll from $80 million and now would have one player making $17.4 million, most in franchise history.

Having Cobb on the team is not a bad thing. But having Cobb on the team and having to trade even more veterans to accommodate his money would be. (The risk can be somewhat mitigated in that the Rays could still trade Cobb, up until June 16 with his permission, anywhere after.)

For now, they wait. And probably put in some very good words if teams call to ask about Cobb.

"Alex is a winning player, and with what he has demonstrated throughout his time here, in terms of on-field talent and leadership, he is every bit deserving of this offer," GM Erik Neander said Monday. "Alex has the next decision in this process, and we’re prepared for the potential outcomes that come with it."

Cobb, who was in talks with the Rays for an extension worth close to $50 million when he got hurt in March 2015, has gone through a lot to get to this point. He deserves the rewards and doesn’t seem like the type who would get too greedy.

Given other pitchers on the market; his impressive 2017 showing (12-10, 3.66, career-high 1791/3 innings); the familiarity of big-spending teams like the Dodgers (ex-Rays boss Andrew Friedman) and Cubs (manager Joe Maddon, pitching coach Jim Hickey); and the reduced draft pick penalty on signing teams, it would be somewhat surprising if he didn’t get a good enough deal.

"It’s extremely humbling and I’m very honored to receive such an offer from the Rays," Cobb said Monday. "Obviously I get the business side of it and reasons behind making the offer. But obviously there’s still a lot of confidence in me that they made that offer. I look forward to talking to my agents and figuring out what will be the best route going forward."

The Rays can only hope that route isn’t the one leading back to Port Charlotte this spring.

Also:

• Right-hander Taylor Guerrieri, the first of the Rays’ 10 picks in the top 60 of the 2011 draft, was lost on waivers to the Blue Jays. Guerrieri, who had Tommy John surgery in 2013, made two starts for Triple-A Durham before a recurrence of arm issues but was said at the end of the season to be healthy. The Rays have only left-hander Blake Snell in the majors from those 10 picks.

• In reducing the 40-man roster to 32, catcher Curt Casali, outfielder Cesar Puello and right-hander Shawn Tolleson were outrighted and became minor-league free agents. Casali was the primary starter in 2016 but spent most of 2017 at Triple A. Puello was claimed on waivers in August but didn’t get much playing time. Tolleson missed the season due to injury, having Tommy John surgery in May.

• Cobb and third baseman Evan Longoria are finalists for Gold Glove awards, which will be announced tonight (9, ESPN). Cobb is competing against Boston’s Chris Sale and Toronto’s Marcus Stroman; Longoria, Baltimore’s Manny Machado and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez.