Cubs Sign Scott Baker

Stop the presses! Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have signed a good player with durability questions to a one year contract. This time, their reclamation project is Scott Baker, who underwent Tommy John surgery last April and missed the entire 2012 season. To secure his services, the Cubs gave him $5.5 million guaranteed, with an additional $1.5 million in performance bonuses based on how many innings he throws.

When healthy enough to pitch, Baker has been an above average starter for the Twins, posting a career ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- of 97/93/94 in just under 1,000 innings. He’s an extreme fly ball pitcher, but he limits walks and racks up strikeouts by pitching up in the zone, so the trade-off works pretty well in preventing runs.

The question, of course, is how much quantity he’ll be able to provide. He’ll be less than a year out from surgery on Opening Day, and if he has any setbacks in his rehab, there’s a pretty decent chance he’ll have to start the season on the DL. If the Cubs want to play it safe and give him some time to build up his endurance in the minors, he might not pitch for Chicago until May or June. Projecting more than 100 to 150 innings from Baker in 2013 is probably too optimistic, so this deal likely buys the Cubs a pitcher for about half of next season.

But, just like with Paul Maholm last winter, this is exactly the kind of guy that the Cubs should be filling out their rotation with. Decent, young-ish starter with upside and no long term commitment who can provide solid results and potentially serve as a nice trade chip at the deadline. Or, if things go really well, they get a leg up on re-signing him before he hits the market again next winter.

For a rebuilding team, this is how Major League payroll should be used. Use available jobs and cash to sign guys who can offer some upside without locking yourself into any long term risk, and position the roster to offer the fans a decent product without giving up any of the long term assets that the team is building around. The cost isn’t so low that it would have made sense for every team to do this deal, but for a club like the Cubs, this is exactly the kind of move that makes sense.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

23 Responses to “Cubs Sign Scott Baker”

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  1. Eddie says:

    I love this front office. Very positive signing.

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  2. Cidron says:

    Flashy? no. Just good ole solid signing. Not a big splash, let alone much of a ripple. And, its all upside for the Cubs, as risk is so minimal. If he does well, great, if not, no biggie. As the article said, perfect type for a rebuilding club.

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  3. Dr_Caligari says:

    As a Cubs fan, I am excited about these kinds of signings. Last year, I felt they could have raised the major league payroll a bit to get a few more potential trade chips on high-risk candidates. This season, they’ve said they would do more and are beginning with this deal, which seems to have no downside for an organization in the Cubs’ position (too much money, not enough to do with it). I’d love to see a couple more of these types of signings this year, and hopefully get a few more prospects in the same style as Arodys Vizcaino and Christian Villanueva who they got last season for trade deadline deals for half a season of acceptable pitching.

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  4. st says:

    nice signing but i have to admit, $5.5mm guaranteed was a little more than I expected when i read the headline, no?

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  5. Does anybody have data on which way the winds fly per month at Wrigley?

    I’m curious how fly ball pitchers are helped or hampered per month at Wrigley, and if there are definite advantages to be found in either high GB or FB rates that fluctuate per month.

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    • Dr_Caligari says:

      This last year, it was just about even in terms of days where it was flying out as days where it was coming in. There were more days where it was a cross-wind or not windy enough to matter, though. I know that the standard storyline is that the winds going out at Wrigley in the summer months makes it an extreme hitter’s ballpark, but this year, that didn’t really happen too much. I don’t have specifics, as I saw it on a Cubs broadcast, but the numbers were much lower than I anticipated. And each month tended to fit in with the overall numbers. There were a few days in April of it blowing in and a few blowing out, but not many more or less than in July.

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  6. mister_rob says:

    “offer the fans a decent product”
    Well, they failed miserably last year to do that. And a couple scott bakers isnt gonna change that

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  7. Snapper says:

    Really would like to see a team option from the Cubs perspective.

    Giving him $5.5M guaranteed, they should have held out for an $8-10M option year, in case Baker is really good.

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  8. Jack Nugent says:

    I don’t think there’s anything not to like about this signing. Only $5.5 guaranteed, and if he hits his innings incentives, Baker will have almost certainly been worth every penny. And there’s a good chance the Cubs won’t pay the whole freight regardless, since he immediately becomes a candidate to be dealt in July.

    That being said, the possibility of the Cubs getting that leg up in resigning him isn’t insignificant. Baker is good enough of a pitcher that if he proves he’s healthy, he may very well be worth hanging on to. The takeaway from this signing ought to be that the Cubs are bringing a quality AL pitcher to the NL at a reasonable price and very little risk. Outstanding deal, IMO.

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    • Lamp says:

      Oh sure, pitching in the AL Central with those noted powerhouse offensive teams like Cleveland & KC are going to trash anyone’s stats. It sure worked wonders for Matt Garza moving over to the “lesser” league. Keep buying the hype dude.

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      • Jack Nugent says:

        I think you’re understating the significance of pitching to lineups that include the pitcher.

        And it’s not like every start of Scott Baker’s came against divisional opponents. In fact, there’s a good chance that less than half of his starts in the big leagues have come against those teams, and by a decent margin too, I’d bet. Also, it wouldn’t be correct to assume that those teams have routinely finished among the worst offensive teams in the AL. Sure, they may not be among the most consistently potent offenses in baseball, but neither are they among the very worst.

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      • Clifford says:

        Ok, did a little research here. First of all, last year, the AL Central teams(minus Twins) averaged out to 15th overall in terms of total runs scored. The NL Central(minus Cubs) averaged out to 13th. In 2011, the AL Central’s avg finish was 12th, while NL Central was 12.5. And in 2010, AL Central was 17th vs. NL Central being 15th. I know this isnt the most accurate assesment of how difficult it is to pitch in either division, but I think its fair to say that in the NL Central, he will have to regularly face the Cards, Reds, and Brewers who are all right around top 10 in runs scored every year….whereas in the AL Central, its kind of the Tigers and everyone else. KC’s lineup could be scary in a year or so, but the Chicago and Cleveland lineups are exactly terrifying.

        Obviously, overall the AL is prolly the better offensive league because you essentially face one less hitter every time through the lineup(kinda crazy how if a guy throws 6-7 IP, he will likely see the pitcher 3 times. thats almost like an entire inning free)…but the gap is closing…the Red Sox, Orioles, Rays, White Sox, Indians, As, and Mariners are all gonna have pretty weak offenses compared to what some of them usually sport. Throw in Houston as well….

        As for Baker’s numbers against the AL Central….

        2011: 5 GS, 2-1, 4.11 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 25 K in 30.2 IP
        2010: 12 GS, 4-3, 5.86 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 53 K in 63 IP
        2009: 16 GS, 8-3, 4.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 69 K in 95 IP

        Overall, he made 33 total starts against the AL Central over a 3-year period. During those 3 years, he made 83 starts total, meaning only about 40% of his starts came against the NL Central. I dont really agree with one side of the argument here, i just thought it might help to present some actual data.

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    • Tim says:

      It’s going to be hard to trade him in July when he doesn’t pitch until July. I don’t buy into the idea that Baker’s going to sniff 100 innings next year.

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  9. Ian says:

    At 31 years old, i’m not sure he’s anymore than what he’s always been – an injury prone starter with solid rate stats. He’s been on the DL every year except one. I think 5.5 is a bit high but the Cubbies have the money. So, good deal, I guess?

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  10. Cody says:

    NO! Not again! I am tired of Scott Baker being a Major League tease and doing nothing for fantasy teams when it actually matters.

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  11. Sparkles Peterson says:

    I really liked it a decade ago when the Pirates were making these kinds of moves, but it just never led to the kind of big returns that would propel the team from the depths of the division. The Maholm return could be an indication that the Cubs are doing ti better than Pittsburgh ever did, or Arodys Vizcaino could be a glass cannon who succeeded through unsustainable mechanics and the Braves realized that Tommy John surgery was actually the death knell of his prospect status.

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  12. Bill says:

    I didn’t like the Dempster trade, they could have held onto him and made him a qualifying offer. If he takes it, he’s back for one more year. If he goes, you get a late 1st. Anyway, Baker’s made 30 starts once, he won’t this year most likely, seems like a fairly big gamble, could have spent that $5.5mil somewhere else?

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    • Daniel says:

      Villaneauva is in double A, with a decent shot to make the majors. I don’t think you get an awful lot better with a mid to late first round pick, if at all.

      I like the Baker deal. It doesn’t sacrifice anything (the Cubs could handle a much higher payroll than the one they’re going to have on opening day, 5.5 million is not going to be missed) and it offers a shot at either generating trade value or, however unlikely a winning season may be, giving the team a chance to be better just in case lightening strikes.

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  13. Clifford says:

    Does this mean Kyle Gibson will be in the rotation come opening day next year? Or do the Twins move Span and/or Willingham for pitching?

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