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Report: Alex Cobb open to a potential deal with Cubs

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Free agent right-hander Alex Cobb is not expected to accept the Rays’ one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer. That’s hardly surprising, given his relative health and productivity in a free agent market that isn’t exactly teeming with viable starting pitchers. On Friday, Cobb hinted at a potential landing spot for the upcoming year, telling MLB Network Radio that he’d be “very honored” to discuss a deal with the Cubs’ Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.

Hickey’s relationship with Cobb goes back through the 30-year-old’s entire six-year career in the bigs, and it certainly seems like he’d be willing to vouch for the starter. “I’d say, ‘Go ahead, good job, yeah I’m on board,” Hickey said in an interview Thursday. “He’s a 30-year-old pitcher who’s probably sat on the shelf […] flirting for three seasons. The usage is minimal for a 30-year-old type of pitcher. What he did with basically two pitches in the American League East last year was remarkable, incredible really.”

Maddon also saw Cobb pitch during the last few years of his managerial stint with the Rays, but familiarity isn’t the only factor in play here. The Cubs are positioning themselves for another run at the playoffs in 2018 and will need to bolster their rotation after losing both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey to free agency this offseason. There are a number of options they could pursue, including Cobb’s former teammate Chris Archer, but serious talks aren’t expected to begin until the GM Meetings next week.

On paper, at least, it appears to be a solid match. After missing nearly two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery, Cobb ran his 2017 campaign with a 12-10 record in 29 starts, complementing his efforts with a 3.66 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 6.4 SO/9 through 176 1/3 innings. He reinvented his arsenal, leaning more on his four-seamer and curveball than his signature split-changeup and posted his best totals since 2014. Whether or not the Cubs intend to facilitate a reunion has yet to be seen, but they’ll undoubtedly have competition for the righty’s services if they sit on it too long.

Noah Syndergaard on Mets extending Jacob deGrom: ‘Pay the man already.’

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March has marked contract extension season across Major League Baseball. Just in the last week, we have seen Justin Verlander, Chris Sale, Brandon Lowe, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly, Mike Trout, Eloy Jiménez, Blake Snell, and Paul Goldschmidt sign extensions. Nolan Arenado, Luis Severino, and Aaron Nola also notably signed extensions during the offseason.

One name strikingly absent from that list: Mets ace Jacob deGrom. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is coming off of a season in which he posted a 1.70 ERA with 269 strikeouts and 46 walks across 217 innings. It’s the lowest ERA by a qualified starter since Zack Greinke‘s 1.66 in 2015. Prior to Greinke, no pitcher had posted an ERA of 1.70 or lower since Greg Maddux in 1994-95 (1.56, 1.63).

deGrom is earning $17 million this season and will enter his fourth and final year of arbitration eligibility going into the 2020 season. He will turn 31 years old in June, but is an obvious extension candidate for the Mets, who have built arguably their most competitive team since 2015, when the club lost the World Series in five games to the Royals. Thus far, though, the Mets and deGrom haven’t been able to get anywhere in extension talks.

deGrom’s rotation mate Noah Syndergaard is watching. Per MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, Syndergaard said, “I think Jake’s the best pitcher in baseball right now. I think he deserves whatever amount he’s worth. I want them to keep him happy so when it does come time for him to reach free agency, he stays on our side pitching for the Mets. I just think they should quit all the fuss and pay the man already.”

Syndergaard added that the recent extension trend around baseball — and deGrom’s lack of an extension to date — sends a message. He said, “I think so, yes, because of what you see in what’s going on in baseball right now. If there wasn’t a trend of other guys getting contract extensions, then I don’t know what the circumstance would be. But you see Chris Sale, Verlander getting extensions. I think it’s time Jacob gets one too.”

Part of the equation behind the recent rash of extensions is the stagnation of free agency. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel — two of baseball’s better pitchers — have gone through almost an entire spring training without being signed. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn’t find new homes until late February. Free agents in their 30’s are largely being underpaid or otherwise forgotten about. Extensions represent financial security for young and old players alike. Syndergaard himself can become a free agent after the 2021 season, so if deGrom’s prospects improve, then so too will his, at least without knowing the details of the next collective bargaining agreement which will be put into place ahead of the 2022 season.