By Sam Zuba-
WRIGLEY FIELD (CBS) Theo Epstein and the Chicago Cubs hope to have filled one of the vacancies in their starting rotation with the acquisition of right-hander Scott Baker.
The 31-year-old Baker signed a one-year deal with the Cubs on Tuesday after missing the entire 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Though the veteran pitcher, who spent seven seasons with the Twins, has yet to pitch from the mound in his rehab, the Cubs fully expect Baker to have an impact sooner rather than later.
“There are no certainties with rehabs, but we spent quite a lot of time on the medical (evaluation) and (looking into) his rehab,” Epstein said. “It was described by our medical staff as an ideal Tommy John’s rehab, so far. Knock on wood. Everything has gone perfectly so far. He’s really attacked it in an ideal manner.”
Epstein pointed to the relatively high success rate of pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery as a reason for optimism moving forward.
“You’d love to sign pitchers who are 100 percent healthy and who have never been hurt, but those animals don’t really exist – they’re certainly hard to find,” Epstein said. “The medical assessment on every pitcher is important, and if you have to sign a pitcher who is coming off of surgery, Tommy John’s is the one you want him to be coming off of. (The rehab) is very predictable with a very strong success rate of upwards of 95 percent.”
Baker underwent his surgery in April of 2012, so for him to be ready by spring training may be a stretch. The deadline for players to report to spring training is Feb. 20.
The right-hander has yet to throw off a mound, though he expects to move to that part of the rehab process by mid-to-late December. Even still, being ready for spring training remains the goal.
“That’s the plan,” Baker said. “The way the throwing program works out is basically I’d like to just jump right into spring training, but obviously that’s up to the medical staff and the coaching staff, but that’s what I’m working towards is to be ready for spring training and kind of use those spring training starts as a rehab process. Obviously that’s tentative, but I have every intention of being a competitive pitcher next year right away.”
The signing of Baker to a one-year deal is certainly reminiscent of the signing of Paul Maholm, who agreed to a one-year deal with the Cubs last offseason, only to be traded for a prospect before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
Epstein, however, was quick to dispel rumors that Baker was signed solely to be traded.
“First of all, we hope our season goes better than that and we’re not in that position,” Epstein said. “Being realistic, if we’re out of it and we’re trying to build a healthy organization, we are going to flip some players. We don’t necessarily flip them all. If you have somebody who is a good fit on the field and off the field, you can look to extend them. We’ve signed some extensions with our own guys, and we’ll probably continue to do that.”
During his time in Minnesota, Baker compiled a record of 63-48 with a 4.15 ERA in 163 appearances, leading Epstein to believe the Cubs got a steal.
“This is, in my opinion, an underrated pitcher and someone who has a very consistent track record of success,” Epstein said. “He does things that we value – throws strikes consistently. He’s not a guy who issues walks. As you know, we had a problem with that last year. He’s someone who gets some swings and misses.”
Sam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and 670TheScore.com. You can follow him on Twitter @SamZuba.