scott baker twinsSigning Scott Baker to a one-year deal was an interesting move for the Chicago Cubs.

On the one hand, short-term deals for 30-ish aged starting pitchers is the order of the day for a wisely rebuilding club – just look at what the Cubs were able to do with Paul Maholm last year.

On the other hand, Baker is coming off of Tommy John surgery last Spring, and, although he’ll be available to pitch in 2013, the prevailing wisdom is that a pitcher is not back to 100 percent until his second full year after TJS. In Baker’s case, that would be 2014.

So, what exactly was the plan with Baker? His comeback is such that he’s not likely to become a flippable piece, but the Cubs probably aren’t going to be competitive in 2013. So why ink him to a one-year, $5.5 million deal in the first place (plus $1.5 million in incentives)? Sure, part of the reason is that Baker undoubtedly wanted a one-year, no-option deal to prove himself. But why would the Cubs be willing to be the team that pays him to get himself in position for a bigger contract in 2014?

Well, it could be that the Cubs are hoping that they are given the first crack at giving him that bigger contract – and that their largesse in 2013 buys them a little discount on an extension.

Dave Cameron at FanGraphs, in writing up his 10 best transactions of the offseason, mentioned the Cubs’ signing of Baker among much larger moves:

It’s a one year deal, and there’s a chance that Baker might not even be healthy for the first part of the 2013 season, so it’s really more of a one-half-of-one-year deal. So, why the love for a short term contract on a rebuilding team? Because, if Baker returns to prior form as a well above average starter, this is likely to result in another contract between the two, providing even more value to the Cubs in the future. Players tend to be loyal to teams that give them paychecks while they’re rehabbing, and the Cubs have essentially bought an opportunity to convince a healthy Scott Baker to stick around in Chicago instead of hitting free agency again next winter. If he’s not healthy, they haven’t risked much. If he is, his next contract with the Cubs could be a huge steal, and this short term deal gives them a chance to land that deal before Baker becomes a free agent again.

The Cubs’ front office has said similar things about a possible future with Baker, so it isn’t inconceivable that the plan all along has been to see how Baker’s recovery goes, and to hope that the natural wooing effect of playing in Chicago will make Baker want to stay for a few more effective years after 2013. Baker turned 31 in September, so a two or three-year deal beyond 2013 would still be an attractive option.

And don’t sleep on Baker’s ability. He was quietly very good in Minnesota for years – from 2007 to 2011, his FIP and WAR were 3.89/2.9, 3.79/3.5, 4.08/3.5, 3.96/2.6, and 3.45/2.8. His career K/BB is an excellent 3.44. Dude can pitch, assuming he recovers well from the surgery.

How is that recovery going, by the way?

Well, his rehab/training schedule is supposed to have him participating in Spring Training just about as normally as he would be, and is supposed to have him ready to start the season. Because of the Cubs’ depth in rotation possibilities – Samardzija, Garza, Jackson, Feldman, Wood, Villanueva, in addition to Baker – there is still the possibility that the Cubs could open the season with Baker on the disabled list, merely as a prophylactic measure. Or, they could have him open the season active, but in a piggy-back role with another starter candidate, which would help limit his innings in the early (cold) weeks of the season.

For his part, Baker suggests the surgery could actually end up being a good thing for him.

“I tried to utilize the time and not just go through the motions,” he told Patrick Mooney. “You don’t try to reinvent yourself, but you definitely try to get back to the basics and get back to the things that you know helped you be successful at the beginning. In saying that, you really focus on the mechanics and try to do things that are very easy to get away from over a career. You don’t feel like you waste time doing that. Obviously, you have to put in the reps, do the strength training program, the throwing program and all that. You are more of a complete pitcher when you’re finally through the rehab process.”

Like many pitchers, Baker was probably pitching through arm pain and weakness for years before ultimately getting surgery, so even the rest associated with a year off from pitching may not have been the worst thing in the world.

“I tell you what, it’s kind of exciting to – I don’t want to say have a new arm, but – have a tune-up and have the knowledge that I have knowing how to pitch,” Baker continued. “I know things are taken care of. I just have to concentrate on pitching. It just really makes you feel good and makes you feel ready for the season.”

Here’s hoping he has a healthy and effective 2013, whenever it begins for him, and the Cubs then have the option of extending that relationship.

  • http://pipitographer@gmail.com Nick Pipitone

    I don’t want to sound overly optimistic, but I will. The Cubs pitching staff, if healthy is possibly the best in the Central. Jackson, Garza, Smarj, etc. I’m confident.

    • Seth

      I think its possible, with Carpenter going down and the questions around the Red’s rotation. (Cueto repeating last year and Chapman as a starter). Now that I think about it, the Central does not have a lot of “great” pitchers.

  • #1lahairfan

    How much would a contract extension cost for him?

  • Mick

    Its a flimsy claim to say that the Cubs’ main motivation for signing Baker was to give themselves the best chance possible to re-sign him after 2013. Baker’s just demonstrated that he’s willing to bite the hand that feeds him in search of the next best deal by leaving Minnesota, the franchise that drafted him, made him a primary star of their rotation, and stuck with him every time he went on the DL. The guy’s a talented pitcher but he’s got a long way to go to earn back my respect.

    • KidCubbie

      Maybe Chicago is where he wanted to be all along.

    • CubFan Paul

      Did Minnesota offer $6M for 2013? I know that they turned down his $9M option

    • BluBlud

      I believe Minnesota declined his 9.5 million dollar offer, then offered him considerably less then what the Cubs did, and in my opinion, I don’t think they were really all that serious about re-signing him in the first place. I could be wrong, that is the feeling I get. He got hurt pitching for them, so if they were serious about keeping him, they could have just exercised his option and let him work his way back. I not saying they didn’t make the right move by declining his option, just that they put themselves in that situation. This coming from a guy who is all about team and player loyalty.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        I also seem to remember reports of the Twins’ offer to Baker being super low.

      • Mick

        The Twins offer was contingent on a team option for a second year but the money was essentially the same for the first season. Again, pointing out loyalty as a reason why the Cubs signing him just doesn’t make much sense. I mean, how much convincing does a player need to play for a historic franchise like the Cubs. Now, if we were Seattle, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, etc. I could understand that strategy.

        More reasonable reasons are that the Cubs hope he can bounce back by the trade deadline to possibly trade him then or just hang on to him until year’s end if he’s proving to be dynamic and give him a qualifying offer. A 30+ year old pitcher with a history of arm injury is almost always going to look for a longer term deal so, its very possible he’d decline the qualifying offer. Finally, the other reason could be that the Cubs had to spend the money someplace and its a reasonable strategy to spread out your investment among 3 pitchers instead of just 1. I’d rank all of those reasons ahead of Scott Baker’s loyalty, what a jerk. :)

        • CubFan Paul

          “contingent on a team option for a second year but the money was essentially the same for the first season”

          That sounds like fuzzy math that doesn’t equal what interest Baker received on the open market…

        • Randy

          WOW. Really …. Hardly

  • Jumbo

    prophylactic? Using the thesauraus again?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I know a word or two.

    • EQ76

      that reminded me of the old Eddie Murphy SNL skit about the Galactic Prophylactic. The bullet proof condom!

    • ETS


  • #1lahairfan

    It’s really hard commenting in the middle of L. A. Class.

  • Rcleven

    Baker was flat out the best pick up in the off season. The control he showed in Detroit (K/BB) won’t be back till next year. A solid number 2 starter.

    • Rcleven

      MINN not Detroit.

    • ETS


      • Rcleven

        E Jackson is exciting too. EJax can throw a one hitter one outing and get shelled the next.Baker is just more steady.

  • mudge

    Good quotes from Baker. Looking forward to all this pitching.

  • Rizzo 44

    Just think the Cubs could trade for Price after the season, sign Garza to a 5 year deal for 5 for 75M, sign Baker if healthy and has a good year to a 3 or 4 year deal, and their rotation in 2014 could look like 1) Price 2)Shark 3)Garza 4)Jackson 5)Baker I would say that would be a very good rotation. Trade Marmol and put Arodys Vizcaino in the closer role. Really then all the Cubs would need to do is add some Offense. A solid 3B would be a nice pick up for this FO. We have OF depth and that will help get Price if thats even possible.

    • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

      I believe we’d have to give up Vizcaino in order to land Price and it would only be for 1 year. He’s a free agent in 2015. Trey McNutt, Tony Zych or Ty’Relle Harris will probably close out games for us after we see what Kyuji Fujikawa can do in the major leagues. I’m surprised Marmol hasn’t been traded yet.

      • Rizzo 44

        You only trade for Price if he will sign an extension with the Cubs thats simple. 6-7 years 25-27M per year.

        • BluBlud

          thats dangerous, I much rather do 5 years/130 million

          • Rizzo 44

            Well you wont sign him for that.

  • http://www.survivingthalia.com Mike Taylor (no relation)

    In regards to Baker, the best move the Cubs made to “influence” his decision on whether to sign long term (when the time comes) was the front office’s pursuit of Anibal Sanchez, which lead to the deal that landed Edwin Jackson. That showed him we are willing to give a multiple year contract to a starting pitcher close to 30. He knows he has better stuff than Jackson, but his health is a big concern. I think he can consider the $6M – $7.5M as a signing bonus this year and then we could offer 4 years / $40M as an extension.

    If this were to happen, we’d have 3 spots in our rotation locked up for awhile and could use our plethora of starting depth to improve the team through a trade. Blackburn, Bowden, Cabrera, Carreno, Johnson, Loux, Maples, Negrin, Raley, Rondon, Vizcaino, Wells, Whitenack, and Wood can fight for the 4-5 spots.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I always forget about Negrin when thinking about out-of-nowhere types for this upcoming season. The odds he becomes a guy of note remain quite low, but it’s fun to dream on guys like that.

  • Diamond Don

    Getting Price would be great, but I’d rather sign Justin Verlander when he becomes a free agent.

    • DarthHater

      Likely to get a better deal financially by trading for Price and trying to sign him to an extension when he is age 28 than by entering the free agent market for Verlander when he is age 31.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        Depends on whether you include prospects in the “financial” price of Price, since they do have financial value.

        But, in terms of the contract, you’re quite right.

        • Rizzo 44

          With the Cubs now having a top 5-10 farm system we can make a trade that people didn’t think possible even as close as 6 months ago I would think. Many people in MLB think the Cubs will make a play for Price after the seaon or maybe even at the trade deadline if the Cubs are close and the Rays are not.

          • Jim

            My only hestitation on Price is that we have already given the Rays a boat load of talent in the Garza deal. I think that Lee and Archer are close to their top two prospects. They would certainly ask for Baez in a deal for Price and that has to be nixed right from the start.

            • Cubbie Blues

              The two deals have nothing to do with each other besides how fans my *feel* about it. That being said, Archer is their #3 and Lee is #5. #53 & 78 overall, for whatever that’s worth.

              • Gcheezpuff

                That is we’re they rank now, but at the time of the trade many viewed it as a quantity over quality trade. Definitely considered good prospects, but still far away. It just shows how good the rays are at evaluated talent. It will be interesting to see what they ask for in a Price deal.

              • DocPeterWimsey

                Also, HJ Lee has fallen even in Keith Law’s estimation. (KLaw was one of Lee’s biggest proponents.) It looks like HJLee can be beaten by pitches in the strike zone, which nullifies his good batting eye. Still, HJLee is a great fielder, so he could wind up an OK player: but he probably won’t be a star.

                • Kygavin

                  Law has said a few times that Lee was “leaking his hands” forward while hitting which has resulted in weak contact. If he keeps his hands back the ceiling to be an above average SS is still there

                  • DocPeterWimsey

                    Which is the horse and which is the cart? All summer, people complained that whenever Castro grounded out, it was because he was rolling over his wrists. They probably were correct. So, the solution was to not roll over his wrists, right? Well, if Castro did not do that, then he would have swung completely over the pitch: the “roll over” was induced by the pitches.

                    It sounds like HJ Lee is dealing with something similar: on particular types of pitches, he leaks his hand forward to make contact. If he stops doing that, then he might simply miss the pitch altogether.

            • Marc N.

              Two guys who aren’t their best prospects, who both have major flaws in their games, are not a boatload.

              If Vogelbach keeps his hype going then I think he can be the headliner for a Price deal…Jah knows a left handed hitting monster power prospect is rare enough to get the conversation going.

        • DarthHater

          You’re right, Brett. I guess I wasn’t so much thinking about a trade for Price making a lot of sense (which it might or might not, depending) as I was thinking that signing a free agent super-duper-star like Verlander at that advanced an age is exactly the kind of move that this FO doesn’t want to make at all.

      • Diamond Don

        Verlander only cost you money, something the Ricketts family has a lot of. Trading for Price would cost an arm and a leg. I’d rather keep our prospects (Baez, Soler, Almora etc) and just spend money on good FA!

        • Lou

          The Tigers will never let Verlander go. So, if it’s Price as a top starter, the Cubs may, may have to do what it takes it Theo and Jed feel he’s part of the puzzle towards a championship.

    • hansman1982

      You could certainly do both.

      • Rizzo 44

        Verlander will resign with the Tigers before he becomes a FA. If they let him walk everyone will be trying to sign him even at 31 years old. He would be a great fit for the Cubs. If the Cubs had Verlander and Price wow that would be crazy awesome!!!

        • BluBlud

          Right, now we cold trade for both right after this season, but I’m pretty sure we would have the 30th ranked farm system coming into next year.

          • BluBlud

            And thats if we had a farm systems at all.

            • Rizzo 44

              Thats just crazy talk Price will command a lot I agree but not near what you’re thinking.

          • truthhurts

            True…but what would you rather have, a top 5 farm and a bottom 5 major league team, of vice versa?

  • MightyBear

    Boy I ask for an update on Baker’s rehab and Brett comes up with a whole article. Thanks Brett. You are the man.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again, signing Scott Baker will be the best move the Cubs made this offseason. The guy throws strikes and that’s what the Cubs have needed since Mordecai Brown.

    • DarthHater

      25 internet points for Mordecai Brown reference:


  • hansman1982

    Mmmm, history of arm injuries and an Inverted W delivery. It’s as if I have never heard of those two things going together.

  • fromthemitten

    Kind of reminds me of the Dempster signing and that turned out pretty well

    • Cubbie Blues

      Just don’t let him stick around for 5 years.

  • DCF

    I agree that signing Baker to a 1-year deal is to give the Cubs the best position to extend him. Well, and about risk-control, obviously.
    But I believe that has nothing to do with earning Bakers loyalty. If he only pitches half a season at best, chances that he’ll be offfered big bucks by any team are really slim. The (most probably relatively low) number of innings he will have pitched by then still leaves a lot of question marks whteher he’s fit to join a teams rotation.
    The Cubs however will have worked with him for one yr at that point and will have a very accurate idea of his value.

  • JR

    I doubt the Cubs spent 5.5 million so they have a little bit shot of resigning him when they are competitive in 2014 and beyond. In my opinion the FO is hoping he starts to peak in July so they can flip him. I would be shocked if he isn’t dealt at the deadline.

    • Lou

      I wonder, too, how Haren is going to hold up over the course of the season. With the Braves seemingly right there with them, Baker could wind up with Washington for the 2nd half of the season.

  • NCMoss

    “before he ultimately getting surgery”. You may want to fix that. Near the end.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Stuck between two thoughts.

      • NCMoss

        Short and informative nonetheless.

  • cubzforlife

    I agree DCF.That’s what the Cubs paid for. And another veteran arm on the team.

  • Bilbo161

    We should wait to see how the young arms fare over the next couple seasons before we make plans to evacuate the best prospects from our system for every number 1 that becomes available. Whew, that sentence was way too long.

  • Bilbo161

    I just think may well be surprised at the progress some of the arms in our system make in the next year or two. Some could well be ready by then.

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