Orioles, starting pitcher Alex Cobb reach agreement on four-year contract

SARASOTA, FLA — With opening day under two weeks away, the Baltimore Orioles have finally put together a five-man rotation. On Tuesday evening, the team reached a deal with former Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Alex Cobb. The deal is reportedly a four-year contract. The exact dollar figure is unknown yet, but believed to be around $56 million, according to Roch Kubatko of MASN.

The 30-year-old starter played six seasons down in Florida for the Tampa Bay Rays, where he accumulated a career record of 48-35 with a 3.50 ERA, before entering the free agent market this offseason. Cobb’s road from 2011 to 2018 has certainly been a rollercoaster though. In 2013 and 2014 he held a 2.82 ERA and gave up just 24 home runs between both seasons.

On the other hand, Cobb has had some disappointing seasons in recent history. After missing all of 2015 with a UCL tear, Cobb only started five games in 2016 and finished with an ugly 8.59 ERA. His return to form in 2017 that resulted in a 12-10 record and a 3.66 ERA earned him some interest in the free agent market and the Orioles ended up giving him the multi-year deal he wasn’t getting offered by others.

The biggest question for a new Orioles pitcher is always how they will perform in Camden Yards. With Cobb playing in the American League East his entire career, he had the opportunity to take the mound in Baltimore more than others. In seven career starts at Camden Yards, Cobb is 3-1 with a 4.62 ERA.

One of the things that stands out about Cobb is his ability to limit the long ball. He has averaged just under 11 home runs per season in his career, which the Orioles hope will translate to his new home. With Camden Yards being a notoriously hitter-friendly park, Cobb’s talents will be tested. He has surrendered four homers in seven starts there.

Cobb will not get much spring training time to prepare before opening day rolls around but his presence rounds out an Orioles rotation that has been under question all offseason. There may not be much depth and none of the five starters stand out as a true ace, but I think fans should feel more comfortable with these five taking the mound instead of one of the many Triple-A arms in the system.

This move will also likely end the talks of making Miguel Castro a starter. The 23-year-old showed a lot of promise out of the pen last season but Buck Showalter gave him a lot of innings of work in a short amount of time. Castro clearly showed fatigue after pitching 66 innings in 2017 so stretching him out into a starter never sounded like a reasonable option.

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BREAKING: UMBC defeats Virginia 74-54, becomes first 16-1 upset in NCAA Tournament history

CHARLOTTE, NC — For the first time in NCAA tournament history, a #16 seed defeated a #1 seed, and it was the University of Maryland – Baltimore County (UMBC) Retrievers that did so, taking down the top-ranked Virginia University Cavaliers 74-54.

The two teams went into halftime all knotted up at 21, but UMBC outscored Virginia 53-33 in the second half to seal the biggest upset in the history of March madness.

The Retrievers scored the first six points of the second half, three of them coming on a three-pointer made by junior forward Joe Sherburne, and there was no looking back from there. Graduate student guard Jarius Lyles made three free-throws in a row, and followed it up with a jumper that extended UMBC’s lead to 12 points.

By the time the Retrievers reached 50 points, they already had a commanding 16-point lead with 8:36 remaining in the game. The Cavaliers came within 12 points a few times after that point, but that would be as close as they got before the Retrievers pulled away, jump-started by a Lyles layup at the 3:55 mark.

As UMBC’s lead continued to grow, the Cavaliers started to foul. The Retrievers handled this well, going 4-for-5 in free-throw attempts in the final three minutes. The last points scored in the game came from a layup by Sherburne with 46 ticks left. After Nigel Johnson of Virginia missed a three-point jumper, the Retrievers ran the clock out as the history of March Madness was changed forever.

Lyles led the way for the Retrievers, scoring 28 points and going 3-for-4 from the three-point line. Sophomore forward Arkel Lamar notched a double-double, totaling 12 points and 10 rebounds. Senior guard K.J. Maura and Sherburne also reached double figures; Sherburne scored 14 points and Maura tallied 10. Lyles, Maura, and Lamar all tied for the team-lead in assists with three apiece.

As a team, UMBC out-shot Virginia in both field goals and three-pointers. The Retrievers went 26-for-48 in free-throw attempts (54.2%), while the Cavaliers went 23-for-56 (41.1%). UMBC only shot 50% from the three-point line in 24 attempts, but Virginia could not make anything. In 22 three-point attempts, the Cavaliers made just four three-pointers.

The Retrievers are back in action on Sunday against the #9-ranked Kansas State Wildcats. Kansas State topped #8 Creighton 69-59 on Friday. Start time is TBA.

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Michael Crabtree lands three-year deal with Baltimore Ravens

OWINGS MILLS, MD — The Baltimore Ravens have been making a lot of moves this week to try to bolster their wide receiver core. John Brown and Ryan Grant were both signed as soon as free agency opened, but the team backed out of their deal with Grant after seeing something pop up on his physical.

By voiding their contract with Grant, the Ravens gave themselves more money to pursue other free agents but also took a step back in their pursuit of building a complete offense. Their fortunes would change on Friday though, when recently-released Oakland Raiders receiver Michael Crabtree came to Owings Mills for a visit and left with a new three-year contract worth $21 million.

The 30-year-old receiver enters his tenth professional season in 2018. After being drafted by the 49ers, Crabtree spent six years in San Francisco. For the past three seasons he has put up some of the best numbers of his career while playing for the Oakland Raiders.

Crabtree averaged 77 receptions, 847 yards and eight touchdowns per season in his time with Oakland. After missing out on players like Jarvis Landry, Sammy Watkins and Allen Robinson, the Ravens finally found themselves a true veteran receiver to build around.

It’s hard to say where the Ravens will go from here. Mike Wallace has been a reliable target in Baltimore for the past two seasons, but there is some uncertainty as to whether he will receive a larger payday with another team. Bringing him back would surely do a lot to solidify a receiving core that was on life support just a week ago. Unfortunately, receivers are not the only need the Ravens have on their roster, so the front office’s attention could turn to another position before the draft.

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Ravens void Grant’s contract after failed physical, Crabtree to visit Friday

OWINGS MILLS, MD — Pump the breaks, Ryan Grant may not become a Baltimore Raven anymore.

Late Thursday afternoon, when John Brown and Grant were both visiting the Ravens’ facilities in Owings Mills, something was revealed during Grant’s physical that concerned the Ravens enough to take their four-year, $29 million ($14.5 million guaranteed) off the table. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, an ankle problem is what costed Grant his contract with Baltimore.

Perhaps the voided contract is a blessing in disguise for Baltimore. Despite four seasons in the NFL, Grant remains an unproven player with less than 1,000 career receiving yards to his name. Nevertheless, the Ravens still offered him the second-largest receiver contract in franchise history. This brought all sorts of criticism from fans, who are probably relived that the Ravens are not throwing $14.5 million Grant’s way anymore.

While Grant may be heading back to the free agent pool, a contract with the Ravens could still happen. What exactly the Ravens saw with his ankle is unclear, but perhaps the Ravens eventually offer Grant a cheaper deal. Either way, signing a wide receiver who has yet to post 90 yards in a game was a puzzling move, and it’s probably for the best that the money originally intended for Grant goes to other areas of need for the Ravens.

Crabtree to visit Owings Mills: Around the same time that the Grant news came out on Thursday, reports also surfaced that free agent wide receiver Michael Crabtree will visit the Ravens on Friday. The Oakland Raiders parted ways with Crabtree after agreeing to a two-year contract with Jordy Nelson.

Crabtree, the 10th-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, spent the last three seasons in Oakland after his first six NFL seasons with the San Fransisco 49ers. Crabtree was on the Niners team that the Ravens defeated in Super Bowl 47.

In nine seasons, Crabtree has caught 579 passes for 6,870 yards and 51 touchdowns. He may not qualify as a true #1 receiver, but he fits the veteran free agent receiver mold that the Ravens have built a reputation on. After cutting Jeremy Maclin on Wednesday, the Ravens lack an established veteran receiver who can lead that position. As the case always is with the salary cap-troubled Ravens, the ability to bring Crabtree to Baltimore will ride on one thing: the price tag.

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Mark Trumbo to miss start of season after MRI reveals quad strain

After experiencing some lingering issues in spring training, Orioles outfielder Mark Trumbo underwent an MRI on Tuesday. The test revealed a Grade 2 quadriceps strain that will sideline the slugger for three to four weeks.

Trumbo recently missed about a week of action but returned to the field on Wednesday for the Orioles game against the New York Yankees. The 32-year-old was penciled in the lineup as a designated hitter and saw three plate appearances.

Manager Buck Showalter said Trumbo was fine during the game but experienced some stiffness and soreness while driving home, leading the team to request an MRI. The tests revealed a more serious injury that will likely force Trumbo to miss the beginning of the season.

With opening day just two weeks away, the Orioles will be without one of their best power hitters as they prepare to compete in the tough American League East. Trumbo has hit 70 home runs while batting .246 in two seasons with Baltimore.

Image credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Ravens release Jeremy Maclin

OWINGS MILLS, MD — Less than a day after signing two free agent wide receivers in the forms of John Brown and Ryan Grant, the Baltimore Ravens released veteran wideout Jeremy Maclin after just one season with the team. The move creates $5 million in cap space for the Ravens.

Following the retirement of Steve Smith Sr. and the departure of Kamar Aiken, the Ravens signed Maclin to a two-year deal worth up to $11 million last summer. This occurred after the Kansas City Chiefs cut Maclin following a season hindered by a lingering groin injury. Maclin’s injury problems continued in Baltimore, as he dealt with ailments to his back, shoulder, and knee. Maclin’s 2017 season saw him finish with career-lows in receptions (40) and receiving yards (440) in 12 games.

The entire Maclin experiment in Baltimore can only be described as a disaster. Not only was he beat up all season, but he never got to establish a repertoire with Joe Flacco as the quarterback missed all of training camp with a herniated disk in his back. There was some thought that Maclin’s previous experience in a Marty Mornhinweg-led offense would bode well, but Maclin never clicked on or off the field for the Ravens.

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Since the 2017 season ended, rumors have been swirling about Maclin’s release. After the Ravens’ front office gave their receiving corps two veteran names who both held better stats than Maclin did last season, the Ravens now appear comfortable letting Maclin go. After two injury-riddled seasons and appearing to not mesh with the Ravens’ locker room, paying Maclin $5 million in 2018 made no sense.

The Ravens still have work to do at the wide receiver position. Brown is very injury-prone and a #2 receiver at-best, and Grant has never been anything more than a #3 wideout. Chris Moore is certainly not a elite wide receiver, and Breshad Perriman may not even make the 2018 roster. At 33, Jordy Nelson fits the mold of several veteran wideouts the Ravens have signed in the past, but his price tag will not be cheap. No matter if the Ravens sign another wide receiver or not, drafting at least two wideouts should still be a top priority.

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Ryan Grant to sign four year deal with Ravens

Not long after news broke of the Ravens reaching a deal with former Cardinals receiver John Brown, another signing came through the free agency pipeline. Baltimore has also reached a deal with former Washington Redskins receiver, Ryan Grant.

Grant was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 draft but has only started 15 games in his four-year career. It has been reported that the Ravens will be giving Grant a four-year deal worth $29 million. A contract of this size is a puzzling to say the least considering how little play time Grant has seen. To his credit, Grant has remained healthy so far in his career and is coming off his best season.

In 2017 the 27-year-old receiver accumulated 573 yards and four touchdowns on 45 receptions. All of these were career-highs as Grant started in seven of the Redskins’ 16 games.

After being heavily criticized by fans all week, it appears the Ravens’ front office has been quietly working on filling the teams needs. The quality of both of these signings will surely be debated, but we all know that both Brown and Grant are role players and not number one wide receivers. The success of both of these signings will depend heavily on who else they can ink this offseason to round out the receiving core.

Image credit: USA Today Sports