When it comes to free agent pitchers, the Twins have a tendency to roll towards the low-risk, low-reward types. I don't need to list names, because we all have a list we can rattle off the top of our heads. There is some good news, in that the team has $25 to $30 million that they could spend this winter, but we also know that the Twins want to bring in a trio of starting pitchers.
Piggybacking on Ryan's comments to @1500espn Tuesday: a #MNTwins source said retaining Baker is a "high priority." Working now on new deal.— Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) October 24, 2012
It certainly seems like Baker and the Twins have a mutual interest in staying together, which is a nice change of pace after somewhat similar circumstances with Joe Nathan last season. With the value of Scott's option in the multi millions of dollars range, most of us expect Baker to have to take a massive pay cut to stay in Minnesota.
How can we gauge what Baker could be worth? The problem is that there aren't a lot of pitchers who have A) missed a full season due to Tommy John surgery and recovery who also B) were free agents following a full year rehabbing.
Ben Sheets, like Baker, also missed his age-30 season in its entirety. After a great 2008 he missed the post-season when he tore a tendon in his throwing elbow, then spent 2009 rehabbing. In January of 2010 he signed a $10 million dollar contract with the Oakland Athletics. I'm not sure what was more surprising - the offer or who gave it to him - but I know that we certainly had interest in Sheets pitching for the Twins in 2010. Prior to the tear in his elbow being discovered, it sounds like he was on the cusp of a two-year contract with the Rangers, probably worth $22 to $25 million total.
As the most comparable player, it's pretty safe to say that Baker won't be getting $10 million from anyone this winter. In some part this will be because of his salaries preceding this season ($3 million, $5 million, $6.5 million) as well as what he would have made through his option ($9.25 million) and because Sheets had been over that amount in previous seasons, but also because the baseball landscape has changed.
Perceived talent level, which is just a total crap shoot after Tommy John, also has a lot to do with how much Baker could be worth on the open market. In the five years before his own injury, Sheets averaged just 168 innings per season but in terms of strikeout rates, walk rates, and base runners had also averaged a level that Baker had only managed for 134 innings in 2011. The $10 million Sheets made in 2010 was about 90% of what he would have made in 2009 with the Rangers, but due to that talent level separation I can't see Baker making 90% of the his $9.25 million.
Incentive-laden contracts are smart routes to take for an organization, but there's still a balance that will have to be struck. Just because he wants to return to Minnesota, that doesn't mean that Baker will sign for peanuts with the bulk of his payday tied up in performance incentive clauses.
If I had to guess, I'd imagine that if this gets done then the Twins will sign Baker to a one-year contract worth $3 to $4 million with incentive that push his ceiling to $6 million. How do you see it shaking out? This is, by their own words, a high priority, which makes me think it's only a matter of time until it's actually done.