The Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation is going to get better as the year progresses. Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson will return from injury, and the Rays’ starting staff should regain its place among the best in baseball. But right now, the starting five they have is not doing the job. Erik Bedard has been a disaster, Jake Odorizzi has not lived up to expectations, and Cesar Ramos‘ success could evaporate at any time. The Rays need to find another starting pitcher, and they have to do so immediately. Maybe the answer is in the minor leagues–Mike Montgomery and Matt Andriese could both be options. The Rays’ best choice, however, could be Scott Baker.
From 2008 to 2011, Scott Baker was solid pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, averaging a 12-7 record with a 3.92 ERA, a 7.6 K/9, a 2.2 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 169 innings per season. Before he knew it, though, everything had fallen apart. Two DL stints in 2011 was followed by Tommy John Surgery on 4/17/12, and it was not until September of 2013 that Baker finally returned to the major leagues. Even then, though, it looked like he might never be the same pitcher. In his first 11 starts back between the minors and majors, Baker managed just a 4.4 K/9, a 2.8 BB/9, and a 1.8 HR/9. Ineffectiveness was expected after Tommy John Surgery, but no one expected Baker to stop overpowering hitters entirely. Suddenly his average fastball velocity had dipped below 90 MPH and his slider was not fooling anyone. Baker settled for a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners and could not even make their roster out of spring training. But at the Texas Rangers’ Triple-A Round Rock affiliate, he has regained the form that made him an above-average major league pitcher.
In five Triple-A starts, Baker has a 2.81 ERA, a 7.3 K/9, a 2.3 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 32 innings pitched. Those three ratios are about as close as you can get to Baker’s numbers at his peak. Baker’s fastball was not quite back to normal in spring training–he still averaged under 90 MPH–but his feel for his slider is back and he is integrating more changeups into his pitch selection. Baker may never can get to his Minnesota level of play, but he has shown enough to get another big league chance. The timing could not be better because Baker has a May 1st opt-out and several teams will be interested in his services. The Rays should be among them.
How much better would Scott Baker be than Montgomery or Andriese? We cannot know for certain, but Baker is the safest bet and provides other benefits as well. Montgomery has looked very good to begin the season, but he entered the season as more of a relief prospect. Andriese, meanwhile, could be a good starter but could use more time to develop at Triple-A. Baker gives the Rays a proven major league pitcher who can give the prospects additional time to develop. He is unlikely to dominate, but he would certainly be better than Erik Bedard and is capable of eating innings at the very least. And unlike Bedard and Ramos when they were first called up, Baker is fully stretched out, already topping 100 pitches twice this season. The Rays have an open 40-man roster spot that they could give to Baker, and he could enter their rotation as soon as Bedard’s next scheduled start on May 4th. The Rays have nothing to lose signing Scott Baker, and we will have to see whether they can get a deal done.