MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins will have several decisions to make this offseason as they try to build a starting rotation for 2013. Among those decisions is whether to pick up the club option on right-hander Scott Baker’s contract, a choice that general manager Terry Ryan said needs to be made around November.
For a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, that $9.25 million price tag on the option will probably be too steep for the Twins. If that’s the case, Baker will be a free agent this winter — which means he could be leaving behind the only professional organization he’s been a part of.
“I’d like to be back (in Minnesota),” Baker said late last month. “I mean, I know there’s other great organizations out there, but this is all I know. I’ve been here, and I’ve enjoyed my time here, my family likes it here. There haven’t been any talks yet, but I’ve let them know that I’m definitely open to hearing what they have to say.”
The Twins took Baker out of Oklahoma State in the second round of the 2003 draft with the 58th overall pick. He made his major league debut in May of 2005 and spent seven years with the Twins in the majors.
But after experiencing elbow issues during spring training earlier this year, Baker was shut down for the season after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. After not throwing a single pitch in 2012, Baker’s future remains a mystery.
For now, Baker is continuing to recover from the major elbow surgery, which typically involves a yearlong recovery profess and a tedious rehab regimen. The procedure is becoming increasingly common in baseball. Some of Baker’s current and former Minnesota teammates have successfully bounced back from Tommy John surgery, including current Rangers reliever Joe Nathan and White Sox lefty Francisco Liriano. Twins minor league pitchers Kyle Gibson and Alex Wimmers have also both had the surgery within the last year or so.
Baker, who had the procedure done in April, has been playing catch from 120 feet and plans to eventually ramp up that distance to 180 feet. He’ll begin his mound progressions in late December or early January, he said, with the hopes of being ready by spring training.
Whether that will be at the Twins’ complex in Fort Myers or elsewhere remains to be seen.
“I’m not going to sit here and promise anybody it’s going to work out that way, but that’s what I’m shooting for,” Baker said of pitching in spring training. “I definitely think that’s an attainable goal of mine, to be ready for spring training, and then just jump into what the guys want me to do for spring training as far as the bullpens, the live BPs, and then the game progressions.”
Added Ryan: “He’s on schedule. He’s doing everything that he’s supposed to do with the type of surgery that he has. We’ve been through this enough with enough people that we kind of have an idea of what the timeframe is. He’ll be ready to go sometime next March or April.”
During the Twins’ 99-loss season in 2011, Baker was the team’s best starting pitcher. He went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 21 starts — including 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA before the All-Star break. But he missed time with a right flexor strain that landed him on the disabled list twice.
Even with his injury concerns last year, the Twins had hoped Baker could help solidify an otherwise unstable starting rotation in 2012. But the 31-year-old right-hander never threw a pitch this season, and Minnesota’s rotation was shaky from Opening Day to the last game of the year.
Baker stayed in Minnesota to do his rehab work at the state-of-the-art training facilities at three-year-old Target Field. As he watched first-hand as the Twins stumbled to their second straight 90-loss season, Baker grew frustrated that he couldn’t be out on the mound to do his part to help.
“I knew it was going to be a long season for me,” he said. “It’s tough. It’s tough watching your teammates not do as well as we wanted to or as well as we were capable of doing. It’s frustrating, and I guess I got to see that rehabbing here the whole time.”
As Baker continues his rehab work, he also has to play the waiting game to see if the Twins want to keep him around. It’s unlikely they will for $9.25 million, but Minnesota could always bring him back for less money.
“Whether they choose to pick up the option or not, that’s up to them,” Baker said. “It’s something that I’d definitely be interested in at least listening to what they have to say for sure.”