Chicago Cubs: Can Scott Baker Still Make An Impact In 2013?

By Thom Tsang
Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

For Scott Baker, the one-year, $5.5 million deal he signed with the Chicago Cubs was supposed to be a win-win for both parties — it was a chance for redemption for the right-hander coming off Tommy John surgery in 2012, and a shot to gain a valuable trade chip for the team.

All it took was one Grapefruit League start to change all that, after Baker suffered a setback in his first start in spring on March 17.

There may have even been a collective sigh of resignation coming among the team’s fans. This is the Cubs, after all — was there something other than bad news to be expected? Surely, Baker was going to be a lost cause for the reason, right?

Well, not so much, as it turns out. Though the setback was definitely serious enough to require him to get an MRI on his reconstructed right elbow, the results were surprisingly positive, all things considered. Baker doesn’t have any structural damage to his elbow, which is the good news.

The bad news is that the 31-year old is still going to be shut down for at least a month before he resumes throwing, which means the initial 12-month window projected for his recovery is … out the window, I suppose.

As Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune suggests, a glass-half-full view might see Baker be prepared to return around the All-Star break in July, considering that he’ll essentially be restarting his recovery process. Much of that is up in the air until he starts throwing again, of course, and the best that the Cubs can do right now is hope that their $5.5 million dollars didn’t go straight down the drain.

That said, assuming that timeline of late-June to mid-July holds, can Baker still yield positive value for the Cubs?

I’d like to think so. While all recoveries from Tommy John surgery have different results, there have been a fair share of guys who have come back with a vengeance like Stephen Strasburg and Brett Anderson (before he hurt his oblique, anyway).

No, Baker might not have top-of-the-rotation stuff, but prior to his injury problems, he was a very effective starter with a good 3.44 career BB/K. In fact, his 12.3 fWAR from 2008 to 2011 would have put him among the top 35 pitchers in the league.

If — and that’s a big if — he can come back by the end of June and pull off a string of 5-6 solid starts, it might just be enough to entice a team in need of an arm down the stretch to give the Cubs a call for Baker’s services. It might not happen by the non-waiver deadline, but there will be time for the righty to build up his trade value.

He’ll be motivated to do it, too. After all, he is going to be a free agent again in 2014, and at 32-years old, time isn’t on his side if he wants to earn another multi-year contract in his career.

It might not look like it right now, but Baker might have his redemption in 2013 for the Cubs yet.

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