FORT MYERS, FLA.
The transition won’t be easy for Homer Bailey.
The problem is not joining a Twins team with no familiar faces.
It’s not about his continuing transition to pitching in the American League, either.
Bailey, heading into his 14th season in Major League Baseball, might be more concerned about being away from his four-legged family.
“For me to not be on the back of a horse for a while — I can get a little stir crazy,” Bailey said.
Bailey, 33, was born in La Grange, Texas — about 65 miles southeast of Austin — and still lives in the area. He’s a reader and comes across as a deep thinker, although he has a Christian Bale-type stare that makes you wonder if he’s going to be friendly or burn down your house.
But he has been smiling and laughing all week at the CenturyLink Sports Complex as he familiarizes himself with new teammates. On Thursday, he had a spirited conversation with special instructor LaTroy Hawkins because they both live in Texas and like to bowhunt.
In addition to the horses, Bailey owns a chunk of land in the south and central parts of Texas. Here’s where the interviewer made the mistake of asking him how much land he owned.
“That’s like asking someone how much money they have,” Bailey said with a chuckle. “It’s like a few thousand acres.”
Bailey used to be into roping, dabbled in cow horse competitions and was versed on the Western-style disciplines, and any rodeo events. But he enjoys riding the most.
He kept horses outside of Cincinnati, where he spent the first 12 seasons of his major league career. He also has a horse in Arizona, where the Reds train. He spent last year with the Royals and Athletics, who both train in Arizona as well, so he could go for rides.
“I have three horses,” Bailey said. “One that is pregnant. One I’m selling — he needs a job and I didn’t bring him here. And the one that is in Arizona.”
None of the horses will join him in the Twin Cities this season, leading to his concerns about not having a riding outlet available. He figures he will eventually hook up with Twin Cities horse owners, and perhaps that will lead to some opportunities.
“This is the first year in probably about 10 years I have not traveled with horses, actually,” Bailey said. “It has been a little bit of a change. It’s a good thing I have a dog [a Catahoula leopard dog] to go walk and keep me busy in the afternoons.”
Highs and lows
David DeWitt Bailey is 80-86 with a 4.57 ERA in 13 seasons — 12 with the Reds, then one split last season between Kansas City and Oakland. It hasn’t quite been the career many expected from the seventh overall pick in the 2004 MLB draft. The 6-4 righthander was ranked as the fifth-best prospect in baseball in 2007, and his arrival in the major leagues was highly anticipated. But he yo-yoed between the Reds and the minors for a few seasons before throwing at least 200 innings in 2012 and 2013.
He pitched a no-hitter in each of those seasons, and it was the most productive segment of his career. After a 2013 season in which he had a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 209 innings, Bailey got a six-year deal from the Reds worth $105 million as he was preparing for a hearing in his final year of arbitration.
Then came the surgeries.
“Three!” he said, before the question could be completed.
In 2014, Bailey had a torn flexor mass tendon repaired. In 2015, he needed Tommy John elbow surgery to repair a torn right ulnar collateral ligament, then endured the monthslong rehabilitation process. Before the 2017 season, he had bone chips removed from the same elbow.
That’s two no-hitters, three elbow surgeries. From 2014 to ’18, he went 18-31 with a 5.27 ERA, including a 2018 record of 1-14 with a 6.09 ERA for the Reds.
Bailey downplayed surviving the career-threatening injuries by saying, “You’re doing nothing but working out for a year straight.”
Bailey ended up in one of the stranger transactions ever when the Reds finally gave up on him. In December 2018, he was dealt to the Dodgers along with two prospects for a package that included outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig. Los Angeles released Bailey the next day, with the Dodgers owing him $23 million for 2019 plus a $5 million buyout for 2020.
The Dodgers stayed under the luxury tax threshold in the deal; one of the prospects they got, shortstop Jeter Downs, was used to complete the Mookie Betts-David Price deal that dominated baseball conversation last weekend.
As a free agent, Bailey stabilized his career by signing with Kansas City for the major league minimum. He went 7-6 with a 4.80 ERA in 18 starts before being traded to the Athletics, where he went 6-3 with a 4.30 ERA in 13 starts.
A lot is made about National League pitchers having to adjust to pitching in the other league, but Bailey doesn’t believe his transition was that difficult.
“Not as much as they make it out to be,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s just pitching. You have to be able to execute your pitches.”
The Twins faced Bailey twice while he was with the Royals, splitting the two games.
“We were talking about how his stuff was pretty good,” outfielder Jake Cave said.
Luis Arraez collected four singles off Bailey during a 6-1 loss to the Royals on June 23.
“I remember he had a really good split [split-fingered fastball],” Arraez said. “I think I hit one back up the middle that got him in his hip.”
Said Bailey with a smile: “We won that game. That’s all we have to say about that.”
An out pitch
The Twins were more interested in Bailey after analyzing his work with Oakland. That version of Bailey had success with his split-fingered fastball, going 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA over his final eight starts. He threw his splitter 26.4% of the time in 2019 after not throwing it more than 19% of the time in any other season.
“I had really good command of it there,” Bailey said. “I committed to it being in the bottom of the zone. It was no secret. I’ve been around a long time. I was able to set it up really well, and getting ahead in counts and keeping guys off balance is what makes things effective.”
The Twins were looking to upgrade their stable of arms for 2020 as they try to return to the postseason for the second consecutive season. And they landed Bailey for a one-year, $7 million deal.
“The guy is hungry, man,” Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson said. “One of the things we talked about before we signed him was that he wants to win. This guy has thrown two no-hitters in his career and has a lot of accolades, but he’s missing some things on that winning side, and I think he is really driven.”
Bailey can make another $1 million in incentives if he can pitch at least 165 innings, but he sounded as if joining a team with playoff expectations is the bigger reason why he’s willing to spend a season away from his horses.
“The biggest thing that I saw is that they are going to be a club that most people would feel that it’s their division to lose,” Bailey said. “Just by watching, whether I was in Kansas City or Oakland, that the way they played the game it looked like they were a really good group of guys.
“They won 101 games. So in order to come to an organization and a team that has the expectation of winning, I feel like that built inspiration.”