The Minnesota Twins should be looking inside and outside the organization for five suitable starting pitchers heading toward 2013. Only one of the current starters, Scott Diamond, is assured of a spot next year but it would be ideal if he was not the staff ace.
One of the internal options the Twins may consider this offseason is Scott Baker, who did not pitch this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April and is in the final year of a four-year contract. The team does have a $9.25 million option on him for 2013, but that is more money than any team would pay a pitcher coming off major elbow surgery.
Baker has spent all seven seasons of his major league career with the Twins, and has a 63-48 record with a 4.15 ERA over 163 appearances (159 starts). All things considered his best season came in 2009, when he went 15-9 with a 4.37 ERA while setting career-highs in starts (33) and innings pitched (200). That stands as his only season making more than 30 starts or topping 190 innings, as injuries have held him back. In fact, his elbow issues date back to 2010 in what appears to be another slow (or too trusting of the player) diagnosis of an injury by the Twins’ medical staff.
Baker was on the way to perhaps having his best season in 2011, with a 3.14 ERA and 123 strikeouts over 134.2 innings pitched, before elbow inflammation sidelined him. That potential may be enough to garner some attention from other teams, assuming he proves to be healthy and the Twins don’t pick up his option or show significant interest in bringing him back at a lower salary.
Baker has reportedly started to throw off flat ground recently with a plan to begin throwing off a mound in December or January. As long as his progress continues to be good, being cleared to pitch in spring training games looks likely. To this point he has done all of his rehab at Target Field, so at the very least the Twins have been able to monitor his progress closely and should continue to do so as the winter goes along.
For what it’s worth Baker has said he wants to return to the Twins, but he surely has to be realistic and know the contract option for next season will not be picked up. No matter where he ultimately lands upon presumably hitting free agency, Baker will surely have to be willing to sign a short-term, incentive-laden deal as he looks to prove his health. That expectation of low cost should put him right in the Twins’ wheelhouse in terms of free agent pitching targets, leaving aside his history with the organization.