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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Silver Lining on the Scott Baker News

Will this man-child ever throw for the Twins again?
There's no good news report today, as it was just announced that our best righty, Scott Baker, will miss the entire season as a result of elbow surgery. This is bad news, make no mistake. When he's on, Baker is the second best pitcher in the rotation. Before injuries sidelined him in 2011, he was having arguably an all-star season, and he's one of just a few Twins pitchers that can consistently get hitters to swing and miss. Also, he seems like a nice guy. I met him last year, and he was nothing but polite. But tonight, in a rare Twins Fan From Afar evening post, I'm going to present the silver lining on the Baker news. Here it goes:

1. The Twins won't have a tough decision to make on his 2013 option. It's for $9.5 million, and I'd be really, really surprised if they picked it up. Sure, this isn't Tommy John surgery, but with Baker's lengthy injury history, it would be a significant risk to take, for a traditionally risk-averse organization. Roughly speaking, $9.5 million is 10 percent of this team's payroll. It's the equivalent of a starting position player, or approximately half the salary of an "ace," however you define that term. In other words, there are things the Twins can do with that payroll space.

2. I'm not going to give you some line like "this gives another guy an opportunity to step up and show he belongs." If "he" belonged, he'd already be up here, because our pitching depth is not at all, well, deep. What will happen, though, is that the Twins will lose more games this season. Sure, that's no fun in 2012, but this team wasn't going to make the playoffs, anyway. If you are a sub-.500 team, the more games you lose, the better your draft position. This injury, unfortunate as it may be, probably bumped the Twins up a few slots in the 2013 draft. If moving up a few slots is the difference between drafting the next Justin Verlander -- or even the next Scott Baker -- and missing that selection, it's not insignificant.

3. This makes it more likely that Francisco Liriano stays. Not sure if that is good or bad, but it would be nice to have a veteran starter not named Carl Pavano or Jason Marquis next season. To me, it had seemed, until today, like the Twins would either attempt to keep one of Liriano or Baker, or neither -- but not both. Now, they either will attempt to sign Liriano, or let him walk. Either way, they won't have to think about paying their two most senior pitchers around $10 million each.

4. If Baker does come back to Minnesota, it will be for cheaper. Let's assume Baker does want to stay loyal to Minnesota. He can come back on a 1-year deal and try to re-establish value, and then hit free agency in 2014. What better place to build good pitching stats than Target Field? If not, perhaps Kyle Gibson will be ready to take a spot in 2013?

In closing, I'm in no way suggesting that today was a good day in Twins Territory. We lost a good guy -- definitely our first or second best Twins pitcher. That's bad news, and I hope Baker recovers quickly. But if you view this news in the larger context of the 2014-2018 Twins -- who could be very good -- perhaps there is a sliver of good news hidden in there.


  1. For the most part, I agree with you, but I think Liriano is more likely to be traded by the end of July than sign an extension with the Twins. If the Twins saw him as a part of the future they would have signed him to a longer term contract already. He is simply too inconsistent to count on.

    Worst case 2013 rotation: Blackburn, Gibson, Hendriks, Maloney, Swarzak with Duensing as the sixth option. I don't see the Twins contending next year either so the starting pitching staff may be built on future prospects, some of which might come via trades.

    1. Thanks for the comment, PK. I agree -- Liriano is much more likely to finish the season in a Yankees, Angels, Tigers or Phillies uniform. I think the odds of the Twins trying to extend him are still low, but they are higher than they were 24 hours ago.

      Is it time to create a Twins in 2016 bumper sticker?