It didn't come as a surprise that Scott Baker signed a contract just a couple weeks into this offseason. He's not the first recognizable pitcher to come off the board, as Bartolo Colon and Hisashi Iwakuma preceded him.
Baker is, however, the first to land with a new team. And I think that does come as a surprise to a lot of people, given the Twins' well publicized efforts to bring him back.
Baker didn't spend much time testing the open market, as his new one-year, $5.5 million contract with the Cubs was announced Tuesday. Including an additional $1.5 million in incentives, it's undeniably a great deal for the 31-year-old right-hander, and one that the Twins were wise not to try and match (assuming he gave them the chance). Baker is a very good pitcher when healthy, but he's eclipsed 175 innings only once in his career and guaranteeing him $5.5 million in his first season back from major elbow surgery – despite a saturated pitching market – seems crazy to me. The Cubs didn't even mitigate their risk by including a team option that might get them a bargain in 2014. Many pitchers don't return to full strength until their second year back from Tommy John.
It's natural to wonder what led the hurler to sign elsewhere so quickly. People will inevitably think back to the weird exchanges that took place between Baker and Twins coaches when he was complaining of elbow soreness back in the spring. Was there friction there?
He certainly didn't move on to the Cubs because winning was his highest priority, so there's a temptation to ascribe motives. Why would he ditch the organization that raised him, even if an extra million or two was being offered by another club?
To me, this is a case where Baker just wanted to do what was best for him, and it's hard to argue with his decision. He's already 31 and won't have many more chances for a big payday. So, coming off surgery, he jumps on the chance to earn a nice guaranteed sum throwing in the more pitcher-friendly National League for a season. He's not tied down past next year so he'll have a chance to hit the market again after hopefully proving that his surgery was a success.
Good for him. Meanwhile, the Twins quickly lose out on one of their most accessible options and have to readjust their plans after probably expecting they'd be able to bring Baker back. Your move, TR.