February 12, 2013; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa (left) runs with teammates Scott Baker (middle) and Travis Wood (right) during spring training camp at Finch Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Scott Baker Situation: He Wont Be Ready Opening Day

It’s becoming abundantly clear:

Scott Baker is still in recovery mode from his Tommy John surgery last April.

And while the Cubs were optimistic about his recovery time when they signed him to a 1 year/$5.5 million deal, he now populates a list of Cubs’ players who’s performances will be questionable in 2013. Other members of that list include 3B Ian Stewart and SP Scott Feldman.

This isn’t to say that Baker is already a bust for the Cubs… in fact it’s far from that. He was extremely effective before his injury in 2011 with the Twins going 8-6 with a very healthy 8.22 K/9 ratio, 2.14 BB/9 ratio and a 3.14 ERA in 134.2 total innings pitched. He’s projected to post similar (slightly worse) figures in 2013.

I understand that Cubs fans will be a little upset when they figure out that a guy who’s making five and a half million bucks will not be a part of the starting rotation on opening day. It’s just the nature of Cubs fans, really. But you have to consider that the price tag on Baker was one of the best quality/price deals of the off season, especially in the inflated pitching market. Also consider the free agent crop for 2013 isn’t great and many players who are still signed to contracts when injured tend to show loyalty to the team the next season. This could mean a steal for the Cubs down the road.

Ideally, most pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery take 2 years to return to their previous form, and this looks like it will remain true for Baker. He’s already on the mound throwing and it will take time for him to find his groove again.

Jed Hoyer is confident that Baker will be in prime shape, but knows that rushing his new arm will not bring any value to the team:

He’s getting his legs underneath him and getting used to being back on the mound. We’re keeping an open mind, in terms of not putting dates on it. His rehab has been great, and the reports are all positive. We’re confident he’ll have a great season, but missing a start early in the year is better than rushing him back and missing starts later.

This situation would be much more dire if the Cubs hadn’t gone out and made many good moves to bolster pitching this off season, but by signing Edwin Jackson, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva, there isn’t as much pressure to get Baker in to game time form as quickly. Besides, this opens up the door for Travis Wood to potentially show what he’s made of and try to squeak in to that 5th rotation spot, no matter how unlikely it is.

It’s easy to jump the gun on Baker and say he’s a wasted contract now, but when the time is right, he will be part of the rotation.

You can bet he’ll be effective and ready when that day comes.

Tags: 2013 Chicago Cubs Scott Baker

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