Scott Baker, Who Is Of Interest
Something we know is that the Mariners aren’t finished trying to tweak the roster. We know this because if they were finished, that would be stupid. Recently there have been some interesting messages put out there. On the one hand, people have suggested the Mariners are just about out of payroll flexibility. On the other, the Mariners have said they still have some resources, and they just admitted to being in the market for a No.3 starting pitcher. You can’t target a No. 3 starting pitcher if you can’t make any more significant moves.
So what is a No. 3 starting pitcher? For one team next year, the No. 3 starter will be Anibal Sanchez. For another team next year, the No. 3 starter will be Kevin Correia. So, a No. 3 is somewhere between Anibal Sanchez and Kevin Correia, and that’s what the Mariners are targeting. The first guy to grab your attention is Ervin Santana, but the way Jack has been talking, Santana might be too expensive. Another rumor out there is that the Mariners are highly interested in free agent Scott Baker. I don’t know if Baker would count as the No. 3, or as something else, but that’s a thing that’s been floated on the Internet, and so that’s a thing I’m free to riff on.
This is amazingly simple. If you happen to be in a rush, read only the next two sentences. The last healthy version of Scott Baker was a quality, dependable starting pitcher. The big question is how he’ll recover from his elbow surgery.
And that’s it. That’s what we can say. Baker would be good if he could get back to being what he was for a few years with the Twins. He might not be able to do that, on account of the elbow problems, and he’s also just older, as we all are. The three years before his surgery, he was as good as Max Scherzer and Hiroki Kuroda, more or less. Good pitchers! Then health problems. Baker pitched in the majors last season, but he pitched all of three times, and he wasn’t himself. I mean, he was himself, by definition, but he wasn’t his old himself. He was a version of Scott Baker you’re not familiar with yet.
Given how routine Tommy John surgery has become, I don’t think it scares people the way it used to. I think a common assumption is that pitchers end up fine on the other end, given a long enough rehab. So Baker just looks like a high-upside pickup. Which he would be, but he’s far from automatic. Remember: Baker has started three games over the past two seasons. He’s started six games since the end of July, 2011. How could it go wrong, you ask? The Cubs paid Baker $5.5 million last season, and he played three games. He looked like a smart risk, but that’s why “risk” and “guarantee” are different words with different definitions.
According to reports, the Cubs have already basically ruled out re-signing Baker, even though they’re still looking for rotation help. That’s interesting, although it’s not like we can know exactly what it means. When Baker did come back last year, his fastball was down about 2-3 ticks from where it was beforehand. Obviously, that could just be part of the rehab, and Baker could be back to 100% these days. But he might also just be less of a pitcher now, and while Baker offered quotes about how velocity isn’t as important as command and movement, the reality is that velocity matters and a lower-velocity Baker would be a lower-effectiveness Baker, almost certainly. If the market viewed Baker as a good gamble, he’d have more of a market.
I’m not trying to talk people out of Scott Baker, because I like the idea of Scott Baker, as anyone would. The last time he was healthy, he was neat, and maybe he’s healthy again now. I just want to make it clear that when you’re dealing with the talented and delicate, sometimes you end up seeing a lot of the talent, but sometimes you end up seeing a lot of the fragility. Lots of players would be better if they could get back to being what they were. Baker’s among them. Last September he was throwing 88 instead of 91, and someone already tried rolling the dice on him once. You don’t need to go far back for proof that Scott Baker can disappoint you.
Obvious statement: Scott Baker would be great on a minor-league contract! At that point there’s not no risk, but there’s limited risk. On a major-league contract, everything depends, and everyone has a point beyond which they’d no longer be real comfortable. Remember that the Mariners are kind of planning on winning, soon. There are a lot of reasons to favor talent over durability. The A’s have been fortunate doing that very thing. It’s not clear how much talent Scott Baker actually still has, when he’s able to get on a mound. He’s not quite Franklin Gutierrez, but that’s also an impossible benchmark.