Alex Cobb entered this season wondering if it might be his last.
The 33-year-old was coming off a dismal three-year stint in Baltimore, where he battled injuries and posted a 5.10 ERA in 41 starts. He had been traded to the Angels during the offseason, and was keenly aware he was entering the final season of a four-year, $57-million contract.
A pitcher who in his early years starred on a playoff team in Tampa Bay, and who once seemed destined for a long major league career, was suddenly facing his baseball mortality.
“There were a lot of moments,” Cobb said, “where I truly believed this could have been my last year.”
Instead, it became the start of a new chapter for the veteran right-hander, a resurgent campaign in which he went 8-3 with a 3.76 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 18 starts.
His final outing on Thursday wasn’t great, a five-inning, five-run start in the Angels‘ 7-6 loss to the Texas Rangers. But the totality of his season will surely make Cobb a coveted commodity on the free-agent market this winter.
Forget about retirement. He feels like there is plenty still ahead.
“It was looking at those two roads in front of you and knowing that, if things didn’t go well this year, if I didn’t make some sort of adjustment, that it could have easily been my last, that I wouldn’t have gotten another opportunity,” he said. “It really makes you understand whether you want to continue playing or not, when the realization [hits you] that it could be over … and you feel like there’s more in the tank.”
The real question now is where Cobb’s career will go next.
He has repeatedly reiterated in recent months that he would love to return to the Angels, a team that will no doubt be looking to bolster its pitching staff for 2022.
And while Cobb said Thursday that no formal negotiations with the team have taken place, he added: “We both have the understanding that there’s mutual respect there and mutual desire to reunite next year. We haven’t had those talks yet, but it’s obviously something I’d be really happy to do.”
His performance this season could make it a tempting proposition for the Angels as well.
With the help of a visit to the renowned Driveline training center last offseason, Cobb found renewed life in his pitches this season, limiting hard contact and generating chases out of the zone with a predominant mix of sinkers and splitters.
After an inconsistent opening couple of months that included battles with blisters, Cobb hit his stride in July, recording a 1.09 ERA in four starts. Despite trade speculation, he wasn’t moved at the deadline, but was placed on the injured list soon after with a wrist injury that sidelined him for six weeks.
After returning in mid-September, his stuff didn’t waver. Even with Thursday’s result, he gave up just six runs over his final 15 ⅔ innings of the season.
“It’s hard to be away from the mound that long and try to stay sharp,” Cobb said. “You have to do a lot of mental reps and take some time to understand your delivery. I felt like I did that really well when I came back.”
Cobb said he fell back in love with the game too, a feeling that had waned during his struggles with the Orioles.
“The three years in Baltimore were extremely tough,” he said. “Didn’t really enjoy the game as much as I would like to have. Coming here really reignited that joy for the game.”
He credited part of that to playing for manager Joe Maddon, who was his first manager in the big leagues back in Tampa Bay. He said, despite the team’s losing record this season, the direction of the club energized him too.
“The fact that the organization knows there’s a lot of work to be done and they don’t shy away from that, it says a lot,” he said. “They’re in win-mode right now. And as a player in the big leagues, all you can ask for is showing up in spring training with that chance to win.”
Whether he’ll be part of the group that arrives in Tempe, Ariz., for Angels camp next February remains to be seen.
But, as he heads into the offseason, he knows he’ll be somewhere next spring — that his career outlook has completely shifted.
“There were many conversations with my wife [about], ‘Let’s enjoy this year, it may be my last,’ ” he said, before adding that, instead, “this one injected that love of the game back into me, the desire to go back out and compete.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Source: Yahoo Sports