The Cubs guaranteed Scott Baker $5.5 million after he didn’t throw a single pitch for the Minnesota Twins in 2012. And the two sides are already thinking about another contract, even though Baker hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the Cubs in 2013.
The kicker is this actually makes a lot of sense, when you consider the price of pitching and the state of the organization. The Cubs don’t see many impact arms in the higher levels of their system, so they’re willing to bet on Baker as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.
Baker had a big smile across his face on Thursday at Wrigley Field, where he threw a bullpen session in front of a group that included manager Dale Sveum and pitching coach Chris Bosio. The veteran right-hander was happy to escape the 110-degree heat and the same old routine at Fitch Park in Mesa, Ariz.
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The next step will be pitching on Sunday for Class-A Kane County, the beginning of a rehab assignment that could last four-to-six weeks and put Baker in the rotation by mid-to-late August. The Cubs have already traded away Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles and are expected to move Matt Garza once another contender meets their asking price.
“It’s hard not to pay attention to that,” Baker said. “It is extremely tough to stay connected in Arizona. I think, selfishly, you have to focus on getting healthy and staying healthy. That’s your focus first and foremost. But you definitely watch the games. You definitely see how the guys are doing (and) you happen to see that the front office has been very active the entire season.
“It seems like, to me, that they know what they’re doing. Put it that way.”
General manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged the Cubs have discussed the possibility of another deal for Baker, who will turn 32 in September. Baker went 63-48 with a 4.15 ERA across parts of seven seasons in Minnesota, contributing to three playoff teams and another one that took the White Sox to Game 163 in 2008.
“There’s no secret that there’s a lot of great things going on here,” Baker said. “I want to say I have a lot of great years left pitching. But at the same time, every year is an opportunity to win. You go through different phases in your career. I feel like I’m at that point now that I’ve been hurt, and things have kind of been taken away from me, that I want to be with a team and an organization that’s trying to win.
“There’s no question that this is going on here. So I’d definitely be interested to see how it goes. Obviously, the rest of the season plays a big part of me proving that I’m healthy and can be serviceable next year.”
Baker’s one-year deal included $1.5 million in incentives and the Cubs had hopes he could be a part of the Opening Day rotation, or return by the one-year mark of his elbow reconstruction surgery (April 17). But he couldn’t make it through the first inning of his Cactus League debut on St. Patrick’s Day, and the Cubs had to shut down his throwing program.
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Baker has a reputation of being a serious student and a good clubhouse guy. Hoyer appreciated how Baker sounded apologetic after the setback in spring training.
“I didn’t want anybody to ever think that I didn’t have the intention of being a serviceable pitcher right from the beginning of the season,” Baker explained. “That was my goal and that’s what I worked for the entire previous season and that entire offseason leading up to spring training.
“I guess that wasn’t necessary. But I just wanted them to know that: ‘Yeah, it happened, and it stinks, but I did everything that I could to try to be ready for the start of the season.’”
The Cubs and Baker could give it another shot in 2014.