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Cubs free agent target: Alex Cobb

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Obvious target is obvious.

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Jake Arrieta and John Lackey will both likely be departing the Cubs rotation — Arrieta by free agency, Lackey probably by retirement.

So the Cubs are looking for starting pitchers.

Alex Cobb is a free agent. He pitched for Cubs manager Joe Maddon for the Rays from 2011-14 and has had new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey as his coach there for his entire run in Tampa.

If anything screamed out, “Sign this guy!”, those facts certainly do.

Cobb had three good full seasons for the Rays through 2014, then missed the entire 2015 season and most of 2016 after having Tommy John surgery.

Returning in 2017, he had a solid year — 3.66 ERA, 1.221 WHIP, 2.4 bWAR. His K rate was down, though, from 8.1 per nine innings in 2014 to 6.4 in 2017. Here’s further analysis of his pitching style from our SB Nation Rays site DRays Bay, written early in the 2017 season.

I asked Danny Russell, who runs DRays Bay, for a bit more info about Cobb. Here’s what he told me:

Alex Cobb is an interesting pitcher. An unheralded prospect, Cobb made a name for himself by developing a split-change so distinct it was named The Thing, beguiling almost all PitchFX sites. Unfortunately, he has since undergone Tommy John surgery and had to completely reinvent his game as an old school fastball-curveball pitcher. The groundball inducing split-change is still around, but it's no longer the focus of his repertoire. No matter, Cobb is a good pitcher, and that's what good pitchers do: adapt. Any team that signs Cobb will get a solid No. 3 starter who could be an ace if the split-change ever returns to form.

Russell also called Cobb a “grinder” with “good character.” It sounds like he’d be a really good fit in the Cubs rotation, and he’d surely feel comfortable with Maddon and Hickey in charge.

Cobb turned 30 last month. Typically, a TJS pitcher takes more than one year to return to his previous form, so the Cubs could get him right when he’s rounding back into that form. I’d think a four-year deal in the $50 million range would make him a Cub next season. And if this is going to happen, I’d think it would happen reasonably soon, given the connections between Cubs personnel and Cobb.

Get it done, Theo.