Today, Chicago Cubs President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer made their first plunge into the free agent market to prepare for the 2013 season, and signed right handed starting pitcher Scott Baker to a contract. If you have been paying any attention at all to anything Epstein and Hoyer have said about their plans for this off season, you would know that this free agent pick up would not be anything splashy. What they would be targeting this off season would be pitchers who are looking for a team that will allow them to rebuild their reputation and value. That is exactly why Baker was signed to a one year contract to pitch for the Cubs in 2013.
Baker is not going to win the Cubs a division title in the upcoming season, but could help the Cubs win one a few years down the road. If you were expecting the Cubs to sign a pitcher who would lead them to such in the upcoming season I highly suggest you take another listen to what our front office said their plans were because this will not be the last “head scratching” free agent signing the pair makes these next few months.
Baker will be joining the Cubs after spending seven seasons with the Minnesota Twins, between the years of 2005 and 20ll putting up a record of 63-48 with a career ERA of 4.15. His strike out to walk ratio is pretty impressive as well, striking out 770 batters while only walking 224 over the span of 958 innings and has an impressive WHIP of 1.264 for his career. Baker missed the entire 2012 season after having Tommy John surgery back in April.
In case you are wondering, before being limited to only 23 appearances in 2011, Baker was has having a solid year with the Twins In his injury shortened season, Baker was able to put up a record of 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA while striking out 123 batters and walking 32 with a WHIP of 1.173.
I know what you are thinking, if he is such a good pitcher, why did the Twins let him hit free agency. That is easy to answer. The Twins did not want to pick up his option which was worth $9.25 Million, especially with their not knowing when he would be ready to pitch. So the Twins cut their losses and sent him to the unemployment office where he was picked up by the Cubs.
The Cubs, however, decided to take a chance on Baker being healthy, signing him to a one year contract worth $5.5 Million including incentives that could pay him an addition $1.5 Million based on innings pitched. Epstein and Hoyer must have liked what they saw in the medical reports for Baker, and decided to take him at his word. Baker believes he will be ready for Spring Training, and feels that he will be a factor in the Cubs rotation from the start of the season.
If Baker is able to resume his career at the level he was at when he left off, the Cubs will likely wind up trading him to a contending team for a couple of prospects like they did with last year’s reclamation project Paul Maholm. Both Maholm and David DeJesus were picked up in order for them to have a chance to build up their value in order to be traded for prospects at a later date. Things worked well with the Maholm pick up, and I am sure if DeJesus continues to play as well in 2013 as he did last season, he will be moved before the trade deadline this coming season, if not before Spring Training even begins this year.
If you are underwhelmed by the signing of Baker, then prepare for another disappointing signing later this off season, as the Cubs will likely sign another pitcher who is in the same boat. This year, much like last year and likely next as well, is not about trying to win the World Series. The goal is to develop the younger players and rebuild the farm system so you do not have to go out into free agency to fill several voids in the lineup.
The Baker signing will likely fly under the radar and draw more criticism than what is deserved. But, at the end of the day, this is a low risk, high reward deal that could wind up brining in a big piece to a championship team. If he fails to return to pre-surgery form, the Cubs are only out $5.5 Million, and that is a drop in the bucket now a days.