The Tampa Bay Rays have a plethora of young arms. Their new ace is Alex Cobb, and they have four more talented pitchers in Chris Archer, Matt Moore, Drew Smyly, and Jake Odorizzi who are right behind him. Developing a group of young arms is clearly the Rays’ priority in regards to pitching. However, it is rarely a bad thing to add an experienced veteran to a team, and with Moore recovering from Tommy John Surgery, the Rays have an opening.
A reasonable description of the Rays’ rosters from recent years is “young team, veteran leadership.” In 2008, the Rays began the trend by signing Troy Percival and Cliff Floyd. Percival didn’t even pitch that well, but he made up for it by taking the time to mentor the Rays’ young pitchers. Since then, players like Johnny Damon, Joel Peralta, and even previous Rays young guns like James Shields have continued that tradition.
A possibility to be the next veteran leader of the team is former Minnesota Twins starter Scott Baker. Baker came into the league at age 23 in 2005 and surpassed expectations as rookie with the Twins as he delivered a 3.35 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched. Baker would struggle for a few years after that, but by 2008, he had established himself as one of Minnesota’s best pitchers.
From 2008 to 2011, Baker went 46-28 with a 3.92 ERA, establishing himself as a strong middle-of-the-rotation starter. His best season was 2008, when he went 11-4 with a 3.24 ERA, but he won double-digit games in 2009 and 2010, reaching 200 innings in the former year. Then, even as he dealt with injuries in 2011, Baker managed to deliver an 8-6 season with a career-best 3.14 ERA in 134 innings pitched.
Since 2011, Baker’s health has continued to be a struggle and he has been unable to recapture his previous form as a pitcher. Tommy John Surgery took out his 2012, and he only made three September starts with the Chicago Cubs in 2013. This past season, meanwhile, Baker did finally get more extended big league time with the Texas Rangers, but it did not go particularly well.
Baker started some games and relieved in others for Texas, but his command wasn’t as sharp as before and hitters were able to get around his pitches fairly easily. He did finish the season strongly, however, and it started with 2 shutout relief innings against the Rays on August 12th. The road back has been difficult, but Baker is healthier and the crispness on his pitches is beginning to come back.
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What could Scott Baker have left after several years of injury and struggle? Scott Baker is unlikely return to the form we saw on the Twins years ago given that he is 33 years old with plenty of mileage and injury. His fastball has lost some zip, and Baker needs all the velocity he can get with his command still inconsistent. However, a very good slider still works in his favor, and the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field could help his homer-prone tendencies.
A healthy Scott Baker can be a valuable asset to this young Rays club on the mound. As for the locker room, meanwhile, it would be nice to have a guy who has endured a decade in the majors and experienced everything from surgeries to pennant races. Baker is a risk because of his age and injury history, but it would cost nothing more than a cheap major league contract if not a minor league deal to bring him to Tampa Bay.
Baker is still looking to prove that he can be an effective big league pitcher again, and the Rays could be the right fit for him in 2015. Baker would receive opportunities to compete for spots in the Rays’ rotation and bullpen, and despite all of the reasons for concern, he still has the ability to rise to the occasion in 2015.