With Cubs Open for Business, Cobb Could Be Can of Corn

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have always been in lockstep when it comes to running the Cubs, at least publicly. Even down to the words they use, the architects of the last great American sports story are very practiced in what they preach.

“We have to be open-minded,” Hoyer said Monday at the GM Meetings, per Patrick Mooney. “We’re loyal to the guys that have won with us. And we’re loyal to the guys that have been drafted and developed and gotten here, no question. But they’re talented and we’re going to be asked about them.

“Our No. 1 loyalty has to be to the Cubs and to the Cubs fans and making sure that we can try to put ourselves in position to win another title, so I think we have to be open-minded.”

He’s speaking, of course, about the possibility of acquiring talent via both free agency and trade, the latter of which is becoming more of a reality. Hoyer expressed reluctance when it comes to the moving players from the 25-man roster, but it’s sort of a necessary evil when you have a wealth of positional talent and a void in the pitching staff.

Though it shouldn’t come as any surprise, it’s still interesting to note just how similar Epstein’s response was when he was asked about that same topic.

“We are open to either way of doing business,” the president of baseball operations echoed, per Bruce Levine. “There are two ways to go about it. One thing we know is we have to add pitching. We like our position player group. So we will see what the winter brings.”

And what the winter appears ever more likely to bring is righty Alex Cobb. Based on the Cubs’ needs, a desire to add pitching without sacrificing MLB talent if possible, and the mutual admiration of the parties involved, Cobb is as close to a no-brainer as exists in this market. ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported Tuesday that the Cubs “reached out to Cobb early in the free-agent process” and the pitcher himself said the two sides can “hopefully come to a deal.”

In fact, the only real hurdle to a press conference in which Cobb dons blue pinstripes vanished like a fart in the wind when a report that the Cubs had exceeded the luxury tax threshold was debunked. Before I toot reveille on my shiny little horn here, I do need to offer a tip o’ the cap to Bleacher Nation’s Brett Taylor, whose tweets and article about the matter got me thinking about the disparity in the numbers.

Neither USA Today nor Bob Nightengale, the author of the report, have issued retractions or corrections as of post time (so they’ve been silent, just not deadly), but I feel supremely confident in my conclusion that the payroll numbers in question represented the raw figures for 2017 rather than AAV. In any case, the Cubs are not over the tax cap and will not have to face what would have been pretty significant penalties.

Those unfamiliar with the nuances of luxury tax penalties of the new CBA might be like, “Big deal, the Cubs have plenty of money because they have expensive tickets and they sell out,” but that’s missing the point entirely. Paying a surcharge on payroll wouldn’t be a big deal, but losing a boatload of international bonus money and being docked draft picks for signing a player with a qualifying offer attached would suck.

Had the Cubs been subject to the luxury tax, signing Cobb would have meant forfeiting $1 million from an international pool that starts at only $4.75 million. That’s a 21 percent penalty. They would also have to give up both their second- and fifth-highest picks in the following draft, which may have been prohibitive in terms of signing a QO player.

Because they’re not over the limit, however, the Cubs need only forfeit $500,000 and their second-highest pick. Those are still pretty stiff penalties, but they’re much more palatable than those we laid out above. And that makes Cobb feel like nearly as sure a thing as a lazy fly ball to Jason Heyward.

There are many other options out there and Cobb isn’t without his warts, but he’s a pretty safe play for a team that would do well to fill a spot and set the tone for the offseason. By that I mean he’s a known commodity as far as team leadership is concerned and should be fine as a back-end starter. And having a big piece in place would better define their strategy for the rest of the winter.

That’s where the “open” stuff comes in, specifically in terms of trades. I’ll not deign to speculate on potential moves to be made, other than to say that I don’t think a deal for Chris Archer makes much sense for either side. As for more specific proposals and whatnot, I’ll leave that stuff to the experts. And Facebook.

Though it appears on the surface as if there’s little more than inertia at this stage, the groundwork is being laid during the GM Meetings. Those first few dominoes will set off a super-sweet Rube Goldberg device of transactions, and I would not be at all surprised to see Cobb as one of the catalysts.

Now please make sure your safety belt is securely fastened and please keep hands and feet inside the vehicle until the ride has come to a complete stop.

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