Sep 8, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Scott Baker (32) pitches in the first inning of the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
Scott Baker Could Fill Fifth Rotation Spot
Depending on who you are willing to believe, the Cleveland Indians may be one of the front runners to land free agent pitcher Scott Baker. Per a report from MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo, there are about five to seven teams showing legitimate interest in Baker’s services for the 2104 season. Among those teams, both the Indians and the Seattle Mariners appear to be the front runners. Whoever Baker signs with, it is expected to be on a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.
The right-handed pitcher, who missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, made three starts for the Cubs in 2013. However, Baker did pitch well in those three starts. He posted a 3.60 ERA and 0.867 WHIP and did not record a decision. Baker is reported to be fully recovered from the 2012 Tommy John surgery and ready to make a major contribution at the big league level for whichever team that chooses to sign him.
Prior to undergoing the procedure to repair his elbow, it appeared that Baker had begun to find himself as a big league pitcher. In 2011 with the Minnesota Twins, the team he had spent the entirety of his career with, Baker went 8-6 in 23 games, 21 of which were starts. He also posted a spectacular 3.14 ERA, 1.173 WHIP, and 129 ERA+. In addition, his SO/9 was a career best at 8.2 with a 3.84 SO/BB.
Sep 14, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Scott Baker (32) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
So what should the Indians expect from Scott Baker if they are able to sign him? Well, if you’re willing to believe his historical performance, the Indians would be getting a solid pitcher that is not going to overwhelm hitters, but should be able to make a solid contribution to the team over the long haul. Having seen Baker quite a bit with the Twins, we should know from experience what he is capable of.
In parts of seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Scott Baker went 63-48 with a 4.14 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and a 102 ERA+. In other words. He’s about an average pitcher – nothing great, but also not awful. In that same time he produced 9.2 H/9, 1.2 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9, 7.2 SO/9, and 3.40 SO/BB. Most importantly, Baker is an innings eater and has averaged 200+ innings per year over the course of his career. Given the state of the Indians rotation and the uncertainty at the back-end, the addition of Scott Baker could prove to be a worthwhile decision.
Of course, the main obstacle standing in the way of the Indians signing Scott Baker is the fact that five or six other teams have reportedly expressed interest. As you would expect, he will most likely sign with the team that provides him the best opportunity to make the starting rotation from day one. Is that something the Indians can provide? That’s hard to say. As things currently stand, Baker would be thrown into the competition for the fifth spot with Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Shaun Marcum, among others.
Of course, we said the same thing about Scott Kazmir heading into 2013 and look how that competition turned out. It was less a competition and more Kazmir announcing his presence with authority. Meanwhile, everyone else in competition for that final spot seemingly imploded under the pressure of pitching for their big league lives. Whether or not we would see a repeat of that competition is uncertain, but it would definitely make for an interesting Spring Training.
Regardless, the Tribe’s willingness to pursue Scott Baker proves without a shadow of doubt that the Indians are not done tinkering with their roster or with trying to find options to round out their starting rotation. Whether or not Baker decides to sign with the Indians, it would not be surprising to see them continue to make moves. As mentioned previously, the pitching market has been frozen while waiting for the eventual signing of Masahiro Tanaka. Once that happens, we should see a flurry of activity that will hopefully include the Indians.