Alex Cobb has spent his entire career in the American League, including nine years in the AL East. He has never pitched against the Giants, but they were on the Los Angeles Angels' schedule twice last season, so Cobb paid close attention whenever orange and black showed up on MLB Network and during advance meetings. He started to pick up on something.
"It was one of those situations where everybody kept telling you they were not going to be good, and then they just kept proving them wrong and proving them wrong and proving them wrong. Outsiders would say it would fizzle out, it would fizzle out, and it just never did," Cobb said on Wednesday. "It's not a fluke."
Cobb saw something he would like to be part of one day, and he heard about it too. The veteran right-hander signed a two-year, $20 million deal on Tuesday night and a day later explained why he chose the Giants in free agency. A big part of it, Cobb said, was simply the fact that he kept hearing from friends and former teammates about how San Francisco was a place to be.
"I have a pretty big group of friends that's either played (there) in the past or is on the team right now, and the one constant thing you always hear is how much everybody loves playing there," Cobb said.
The connections with the 2021 Giants roster and staff go all the way back to 2006. A fourth-round pick out of Vero Beach, Florida, Cobb began his professional career playing rookie ball in Princeton, West Virginia. His catcher was Craig Albernaz, who years later would join Gabe Kapler's staff as a bullpen coach.
Cobb came up through Tampa Bay's system when Kapler was on their big league team and made his debut when Evan Longoria was the organization's biggest star. He played with Kevin Gausman in Baltimore and got a rundown on the Giants earlier this season. He has in the past worked out with Darin Ruf, and when the sport shut down last summer, Cobb became friends with Alex Wood, who helped convince him to visit the Driveline facility near Seattle.
Cobb credits that extra work for helping him have a big year in 2021, and the Giants took notice. Cobb said they were extremely aggressive early in the offseason.
"We're very intrigued by his performance this past season," president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said. "There are a lot of guys on our team who know Alex Cobb, who played with him in the past, and we really weighed that familiarity heavily. He's had a nice, long career and done a lot of good things as a starting pitcher in the game, but we do think that some of the things that he started doing last year he can build upon and perform even better in the next couple of seasons."
Cobb said the early aggression from Zaidi and the rest of the front office helped push him towards the Giants, but there were a lot of other factors. Like every other pitcher who has signed with them in recent years, he cited the pitching infrastructure they have in place and their ability to help him reach new heights. He had one of the highest groundball rates in the Majors last year and said he's excited to play in front of the Giants' infield defense, along with an offense that put up a lot of runs last year.
Cobb also mentioned Oracle Park and the fanbase, saying all of that stood out when the Angels visited this year. Cobb didn't pitch in that series, but he liked the atmosphere (it probably didn't hurt that Giants fans went nuts every time Shohei Ohtani popped out of the dugout).
"There are a few stadiums that have that electric vibe to it, that a big show is happening, a type of playoff-atmosphere feeling," Cobb said. "It had that."
Four months later, the Giants did hold playoff games, and they're hoping Cobb can help guarantee more of that next season. The 34-year-old hasn't been in the postseason since 2013, but as he watched from afar last season he saw a team he thought was much better than anyone realized. He's thrilled to be part of it.
"I don't know why they got overlooked so much but they're an obvious threat throughout Major League Baseball," Cobb said, "And I hope to help that."