Theo Epstein has a pretty weird job. While he is clearly committed to rebuilding the Chicago Cubs by acquiring minor league talent and growing his own future playoff team, he also has to do something about the prospect of the team losing 100 games a season for the next couple of years. Epstein is showing he can be resourceful without spending $200 million, though, and he has inked free agent pitcher Scott Baker to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million. Baker can make the deal worth $7 million if he makes good on contractual incentives.
Baker came cheaply in large part because he missed the entire 2012 season thanks to Tommy John‘s really mean surgery procedure. Before that, Baker’s reputation was as an effective mid-rotation starter who really built his empire on control. For a while there, it really seemed like the Twins had 20 pitchers that fit that exact description, and I’m sure they’d be happy to have anyone close to fitting that bill nowadays. Baker stands out from the crowd a bit when it comes to being a control artist not thought to have much in the way of stuff, as he has actually posted strikeout rates north of 7.0/9 in his last four seasons. Though he’s only hit 200 innings once in that span, he’s been worth at least 2.6 WAR per FanGraphs every time.
Scott Baker may not be that exciting of a player to acquire, but he’s the exact kind of guy the Cubs can take a chance on and benefit from. Assuming he comes back healthy, he can be an above-average starting pitcher who will slide right into the rotation and help push the team to respectability in this awkward time between fielding quality Major League products. It’s entirely possible Epstein can string together enough savvy deals like this one that his team isn’t that bad, and before any of us know it maybe the young fellas will be ready to go and mix with the reclamation projects just fine.
Paying $5.5 million for Baker seems like a nice deal, but it isn’t that cheap. It’s important to remember that, when he wants, Epstein has the luxury of using some of that sweet Chicago cash. The key is that he doesn’t have to, and he won’t be agreeing to any ugly long-term deals, especially when the team is this far from contention. It’s probably too early to speculate, but it seems like both Epstein and Houston’s Jeff Luhnow are doing good work in gradually shoving their respective franchises back to relevancy.