The Indians are emerging as favorites to sign starting pitcher Scott Baker, with the Seattle Mariners also viewed as a possible destination for the 32-year-old righty, and a few other teams said to have expressed some interest as well. Baker is said to be likely to land a minor league deal and spring training invite, according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish.
Baker was a solid pitcher for the Twins from 2007-2010, averaging 172 innings a season over that time, with an ERA+ of 102, and 7.3 strikeouts and 2.1 walks per 9 innings. In 2011 Baker was having the best season of his career (129 ERA+, 8.2 K/9, 2.1 BB/9) before elbow problems led him to miss most of the season's second half, ultimately requiring Tommy John surgery, which put him out for all of 2012 and most of 2013.
Baker began pitching again in the minor leagues around the All-Star break last year, and made 3 starts for the Cubs in September. Baker (never a fireballer) didn't have the same velocity in those starts that he'd had before the injury, but with another offseason of recovery, and the track record for pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery, there's a reasonable chance he can be a solid MLB pitcher again.
Given his track record before the injury and the cost of starting pitching, I'm surprised Baker would have to settle for a minor-league deal. The Cubs signed him for $5.5 million last offseason, and while they obviously thought he'd be back sooner than he was, I figured he'd be able to land something closer to a deal like that again this winter.
There's no way of knowing how well Baker will ever pitch again, but look at his numbers from 2011, as compared to those of Justin Masterson that season:
If the Indians really can land Baker for nothing more than a non-guaranteed deal, it would be a great signing for the team.