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Alex Cobb lands in Baltimore, Brewers fail to sign a “top-four” free agent starter

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And honestly it doesn’t seem like they tried very hard to.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Cobb’s free agency has finally come to a conclusion. Last night, just nine days before the Opening Day and the start of baseball’s regular season, Cobb agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Orioles. The four-year pact is for a reported $57 mil, and although it comes with deferrals, the deal was quite a bit higher than the four years and $48 mil that MLB Trade Rumors predicted for the right-hander at the beginning of the offseason. Baltimore indicated their interest in Cobb early on in the winter based on his track record in the AL East, and the Orioles eventually came around to the idea of paying up for the 30 year old to address a major need in their starting rotation.

Cobb was the only one of the vaunted “top-four” free agent starting pitchers to beat his MLBTR contract projection. Yu Darvish (6 years, $126 mil), Jake Arrieta (3 years, $75 mil), and Lance Lynn (1 year, $12 mil) all fell short of the riches they were forecasted to receive, but all four hurlers have at least one thing in common - they didn’t sign with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Entering the offseason, GM David Stearns was open about the fact that addressing the starting rotation would be his “top priority” for the team this winter. Naturally, that led to rumors and speculation involving all the free agent starters, as well as more than a few potential trade targets. The reports even went as far as to say it would be a “surprise” if Milwaukee didn’t land one of the big fish. And while Stearns and company surely had conversations about moves for the starting rotation with more than a few agents and other teams, nothing of note ever wound up coming to fruition. Milwaukee instead invested heavily in shoring up a part of the team that many already considered a strength - the outfield - while focusing largely on more inexpensive pitchers with the potential to provide surplus value based on their contracts.

In hindsight, it doesn’t really feel like Stearns was all that interested in bringing aboard one of the big-name free agent starters during the winter. It is believed that the club made a competitive offer to Yu Darvish, but their reported level of involvement on Arrieta, Cobb, and Lynn never seemed to get very close to that stage. Stearns inked Jhoulys Chacin on a two-year pact and signed Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley to low-risk deals to come to camp and compete for spots, but otherwise chose to keep his rotation from last season mostly intact. After making a major splash with Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich, owner Mark Attanasio told the crowds at ‘On Deck’ that there was still room to add a free agent starter. Yet Stearns elected not to bolster his staff any further even as the club’s projected payroll sits around $87-88 mil.

Naturally, the Brewers are bullish on the group of pitchers they already have in-house. Stearns stated a few weeks ago that “for us to expend resources, whether it’s financial or prospect value, to bring someone in, it’s going to be someone we think moves the needle (substantially)” when he was asked about possibly bringing in more help, and obviously that didn’t happen. Plenty of scouting and statistical analysis went into those decisions, and when it came down to it, Stearns and company couldn’t justify the levels of expenditure when the available options were not - in the club’s opinion - much, if any better at all than the (inexpensive) group that they had already assembled.

Whether one chooses to agree with the club’s assessment of their pitching depth is up for debate, but at least we can finally close the book on this saga. The Brewers were willing to spend big on a couple of impact position players to bolster their offense for the coming season. But pitching was ultimately the strength of the team last year, and even without Jimmy Nelson until summer, the club apparently feels confident enough in their proprietary analysis and the work of pitching coach Derek Johnson to move forward with the current group of starters and still be able to compete.

I have been vocal about my desire for the club to add an impact starter, and I am honestly a little disappointed that it didn’t happen. But considering that the average NL starter had a 4.44 ERA last season and the Giants had the Senior Circuit’s median rotation ERA at 4.59, Milwaukee's Opening Day starting five (however it ends up shaking out) and the internal depth after those hurlers should be okay even without adding another arm. It’s not difficult to imagine the current group meeting - or exceeding - that level of production, in my opinion. And now at the very least, the team has more ammunition to go out and get a big arm at the trade deadline, if the need is there.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs

Poll

Would you have wanted to the Brewers to sign Alex Cobb to the four-year, $57 mil deal he received?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Yes
    (288 votes)
  • 74%
    No
    (839 votes)
1127 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Are you disappointed that the Brewers didn’t add one of the big-name starters?

This poll is closed

  • 58%
    Yes
    (637 votes)
  • 41%
    No
    (444 votes)
1081 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which of the top-four free agents would you have most wanted the Brewers to sign at the contracts they received elsewhere?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Yu Darvish (6/$126 mil)
    (223 votes)
  • 21%
    Jake Arrieta (3/$75 mil)
    (245 votes)
  • 6%
    Alex Cobb (4/$57 mil)
    (75 votes)
  • 52%
    Lance Lynn (1/$12 mil)
    (592 votes)
1135 votes total Vote Now