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Friday night at Tropicana Field, the last-place Rays beat the first-place Blue Jays (TB 8, TOR 3) in a game that was important for both teams. Toronto, obviously, is looking to increase their lead in the AL East and clinch a postseason spot for the second straight year.

The Rays, meanwhile, welcomed right-hander Alex Cobb back to the rotation, and that’s a pretty big deal. He missed all of last season and most of this season following Tommy John surgery. Cobb’s first big-league start with his new elbow ligament went pretty well:

Just as important as the results is the quality of Cobb’s stuff. It’s more important, I’d say. His sinker and trademark splitter averaged 92.1 mph and 88.0 mph on Friday, respectively. Back in 2014, his last full season prior to Tommy John surgery, the two pitches averaged 92.7 mph and 87.9 mph, respectively. Right in the same ballpark.

Here is video of Cobb’s outing Friday night:

The Rays have said they will use a six-man rotation the rest of the season — Cobb joins Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi, Drew Smyly, Blake Snell, and Matt Andriese in the starting staff — as a way to ease Cobb back into things, and also lighten the load on the rest of the rotation. They’re in last place and well out of the postseason race, remember. No reason to push these guys.

At the trade deadline the Rays reportedly listened to offers for their various starting pitchers, and they figure to do the same in the offseason. Given their current place in the standings, it only makes sense to listen to everything. The Rays need as much high-end talent as they can get. They’ll never be players for the top free agents.

The upcoming starting pitching market is weak, which means the trade market figures to be active. The price for pitching is going to be sky high too. It’s simple supply and demand. Everyone needs pitching, but only a few teams are willing to trade it. The cost of pitching has been inching up since last year, and I think it’s going to boil over into full-blown crazy town this offseason.

usatsi9514958.jpgAlex Cobb made his first start back from Tommy John surgery on Friday. USATSI

Guys like Archer and Odorizzi will draw significant interest because they’re young, affordable, and very good, but if I had to bet on one Rays starter being traded this winter, I would bet on it being Cobb. Why? Because he’ll be a free agent after next season. The other guys are under control for several more seasons. Cobb will be gone soon, and Tampa won’t be able to afford to re-sign him.

Remember, the Rays fielded trade offers for Cobb last offseason, even while he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Clubs saw him as a buy-low opportunity, and ultimately the Rays did not like any of the offers they received. The Cubs were connected to Cobb more than any other team. That’s how desperate teams are for pitching. They’re willing to trade for an injured guy now because he might help later.

Of course, Cobb’s trade value is going to depend heavily on his performance and health this month. If he comes back looking like the old Alex Cobb, the guy who pitched to a 2.82 ERA (134 ERA+) from 2013-14, he’ll be in high demand this offseason, even with only one year of control remaining. If he gets hurt, well, chances are some team will still be willing to trade for him.


Source: CBS Sports / Potential trade chip Alex Cobb wins first start back from Tommy John surgery