Last offseason, the Tampa Bay Rays brought in veteran left-hander Erik Bedard to serve as rotation depth. His presence proved to be important after Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson were out to begin the year. This season, however, the Rays signed no Bedard-esque arm, and that could seemingly go down as a mistake. After all, Alex Cobb, Drew Smyly, and Alex Colome are out, and each of the Rays’ Triple-A starters has some problem.
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The thing to remember, though, is that a starting pitcher does not have to be in Rays camp to begin the season in the team’s starting rotation. Specifically, there are several veteran starters who could be possibilities for the Rays if they do not make the Opening Day rosters of their current franchises and exercise the opt-outs in their contracts. A few more available players are out-of-options pitchers who will end up on waivers. Here are the players we have already discussed, and Scott Baker is up for today.
Baker, 33, is currently in camp with the Rays’ division-rival New York Yankees and has achieved mixed results in his two outings. His first game was a disaster as he allowed 6 hits and 3 runs in just an inning of work, but he looked much better on March 12th. In that contest, he went 3 innings allowing 1 run on 2 hits, striking out 3 while walking none.
Baker joined the Yankees on a minor league deal following a season of mixed results with the Texas Rangers. Baker, once the de facto ace of the Minnesota Twins, stayed healthy for most of a season for the first time since 2011 but pitched to just a 5.47 ERA when he was on the mound. He made 8 starts and 17 relief appearances, and while his 6.1 K/9 and 1.6 BB/9 were fine, his 1.7 HR/9 and tiny 25.3% groundball rate were less encouraging.
Baker still has a solid arsenal, averaging around 90 MPH with his fastball to go along with an excellent slider and a decent changeup. He has always been more of a control pitcher than a command one, throwing a lot of strikes but allowing his share of home runs, and he never threw particularly hard. We have to go back to 2011 for the end of his peak with the Twins, but it is not as though his stuff is so much worse than it was. He still has a chance to be a serviceable big league starting pitcher, especially for a short period of time like what the Rays need.
At the very least, Baker represents decent rotation depth with some upside and also a possible long reliever. With the Rangers last season, Baker received experience pitching on consecutive days and starting on three days’ rest after a short relief appearance. That could have contributed to his poor numbers, but he may also be capable of improving with more reps in such situations. His second year as a swingman could be better than his first.
Baker also has a good chance of being available. He is currently competing for a roster spot with the Yankees, but New York has a series of bullpen options and both Adam Warren and Esmil Rogers are ahead of him for the team’s fifth starter job. Joe Girardi wouldn’t even commit to Baker getting another start. It certainly looks like Baker will start the season at Triple-A if he stays with the Yankees, but that may not be the case if he leaves.
Scott Baker has an opt-out in his contract, and if he can exercise it at the end of spring training, expect him to do so. That doesn’t mean that he will necessarily get a chance–Bedard opted out of his deal with the Rays only to end up going to Triple-A Durham. Even so, Baker will certainly gauge interest in his services and see if he can end up on some team’s major league roster. The Rays could be one option as they hope to provide some stability to their starting rotation early in the year.