When the Chicago Cubs signed Scott Baker to a one-year deal in the offseason, sure, you thought about the possibility of a flip. But, since he was coming off of Tommy John surgery, from which he wasn’t expected to return until a few weeks into the season, and after which guys tend to need some time pitching before they get back to pre-surgery effectiveness, he never actually felt like a great flip candidate.
Instead, and the Cubs at various points suggested as much, the Baker signing felt more about getting him into the organization, working with him for a year, and being in a position to sign him to an extension if things were going well. It’s easy to overlook, but, before his surgery, Baker was consistently an excellent pitcher who probably would have commanded a three or four-year deal in free agency. Getting him in the door for $5.5 million seemed like a reasonable risk. For his part, Baker wanted to bet on himself and was not interested in a cheaper multi-year deal, or a deal that included an option, at the time.
Unfortunately, Baker suffered what proved to be a relatively serious setback in Spring Training during his Tommy John recovery, and he is only just now on the verge of being sent out on a minor league rehab assignment (he’s in Chicago to throw a bullpen session where the Cubs will evaluate him).
Against the backdrop of him probably not being a flippable asset anyway … are we really all that bummed out? Sure, it would have been nice to have the option of flipping (and, yes, there remains an extremely outside chance that he could be dealt in August), but if laying the groundwork for a longer term commitment was always the focus, what exactly has been lost? The Cubs can bring Baker along, let him pitch in the rotation in August and September, and the Cubs can evaluate whether it’s worth trying to bring him back. Moreover, they’ll be the first team that’s able to negotiate with him, and they now may be able to get him on the kind of one-year-plus-one-option-year deal that presents considerable upside to the team, but with relatively little risk. If Baker had returned in April, maybe that possibility never presents itself.
The good news, then, is that Cubs GM Jed Hoyer says that the organization has discussed the possibility of Baker return next year.
“We have certainly talked about it,” Hoyer said, per ESPN. “He is a fantastic person and a really good teammate. When he had a setback in spring training, he apologized to us when we felt worse for him. He is certainly the type of guy you want in your organization.”
Baker will be 32 next year, and could emerge has a reasonably-priced and reasonably-effective back-end rotation option for a Cubs team that is going to need some in the short-term. I’m not trying to say that Baker’s setback was an affirmative good thing for the Cubs (or for Baker). But, when you consider the entire story, I’m not really sure there’s as much “bad” here as we though back in the Spring.