Alex Cobb proving too valuable to trade if Rays are serious about playoffs

Alex Cobb tips his cap as he leaves with two outs in the eighth to a standing ovation.
Alex Cobb tips his cap as he leaves with two outs in the eighth to a standing ovation.
Published July 9, 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Alex Cobb had finished another dazzling day at work Saturday, using his arm and his head and his heart to carry the Rays two outs into the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead over the Red Sox.

As he walked off the mound, giving way to Alex Colome who, with some seemingly requisite drama, eventually would seal the thrilling victory, Cobb received a thunderous roar from the nearly packed Trop crowd, and he tugged at the bill of his cap in acknowledgment.

As far as Cobb had come in returning from May 2015 Tommy John surgery, as with the other injuries before that, this was arguably his finest moment thus far — a huge win in a big (for July, anyway) game against the division leaders at home, and he relished every step.

"It feels like more than just an ovation," Cobb said. "It feels like they really do appreciate not only what just happened in the game, but what I've been through in my career. I feel like our fans are pretty knowledgeable. They know it's been a struggle. I think they know the situation of where my career point is at.

"Just to feel the love from them like I have so many times over the years, it was pretty cool."

Cobb, 29, would love nothing more than to have more of those moments the rest of the summer.

He certainly seems capable of being worthy, mixing the two-seam fastball that induces so much weak contact, the curve that he made his primary weapon on the fly early this season and the old reliable split-change that he has slowly been rediscovering and used effectively Saturday.

"Just an outstanding performance by him," manager Kevin Cash.

But there's one slight issue here.

Cobb doesn't know if he will be with the Rays to do so.

The trade deadline is three weeks and a day from today. Cobb is a free agent at the end of the season. The Rays typically don't let assets go without getting something back. At 7-6, 3.75 through 18 starts, Cobb has certainly pitched well enough to fetch an enticing return.

Could they trade Cobb?

Sure. This is a business, and managing assets — unemotionally — with an eye to the future is a tenet of the Rays philosophy. Dealing James Shields and David Price, two other homegrown pitchers who keyed success, was hard, but they did it anyway. And they always have another good arm on the way to step in.

But can they trade Cobb?

Knowing how much it would mean to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, and knowing how much Cobb means to that push, I don't see how.

They can't.

Not if they really want to win now.

The impact on the rotation, already missing Matt Andriese and relying on rookie Jake Faria and unsteady Blake Snell, would be significant.

The loss in the clubhouse, where Cobb is a voice of experience, determination and inspiration, would be greater.

As frustrated as the players were to see reliever Kevin Jepsen dealt in July 2015 when they were a few games out in the wild-card race, it would be closer to revolt if Cobb were traded for another hyped prospect or two, as much or more than for any other player you could name, starting with A.

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"This team feels really good when he's on the mound," Cash said. "Whenever his day comes up, the guys in the clubhouse are energized. They know we've got Alex Cobb the competitor coming out, and he's going to do everything he can to give us a chance to win."

Cobb has tried, hard, to not wonder too much about what could happen.

"I'm fortunate I don't have to think about it because we're winning ballgames right now," he said.

But is that enough — say, if the Rays are in a similar spot to now, 46-43, in the wild-card race and a handful back in the division — to keep him here?

"I hope so," Cobb said. "I think management has done a really good job of putting together a really good team this year. Since the day I got drafted by the Rays (in 2006) it's always been a dream of mine to not only play in the playoffs but win a World Series. I was fortunate enough to play in the playoffs here and taste just how awesome that excitement was. I want that again, and I want it to be greater. This is my home. … It would be more special than anywhere else for me to win here."

Eventually, Cobb will leave. He — deservedly so — wants to get paid, having been negotiating close to a $50 million deal when he got hurt in March 2015. He'll say he is open to re-signing, but it's not going to come at a discount, and the Rays aren't going to compete with the free market prices.

But for these next 2½ of maybe, if things go really well, 3½ months, there's nowhere else he wants to be. Or should be. There's too much love going around.

Marc Topkin can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.