The Mariners have finally added some desperately needed rotation depth. Scott Baker is signing with the Mariners according to wonder-kid Chris Cotillo, and the terms are fantastic. Baker joins on a minor league deal with incentives, as he'll earn $1 million if he makes the team out of spring training, and can make up to $4.25 million. Baker was reportedly choosing between a few teams that included the Indians and the Mariners, and it was likely the rotation opening in Seattle and extra incentives that brought him over.
Baker marks yet another signing for the Mariners that we wrote about in our off-season plan, and the cost to acquire him is just a hair less than I originally anticipated. The plan called for 1 year, $1.5 million with up to $4 million in incentives, so the current agreement is commendable. Baker's obviously struggled quite a bit with health over the past few years after Tommy John surgery, making only a handful of starts last year after missing all of 2012, but the team will get plenty of time to check him out before deciding whether to carry him out of camp or not.
The deal is absolutely perfect for this stage in the off-season. It doesn't prevent the Mariners from adding another legit arm, or spending money in other ways. There's virtually zero financial risk here, and if the Mariners can agree to terms with Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez then Baker can be shifted to the bullpen for dirt cheap or released at no cost. It's likely that his incentives are structured around innings pitched, so he'd probably stay cheap if they stuck him in the pen. They either have a cheap and effective starting pitcher, a reliever for the pile, or a broken mess they can wash their hands of at no cost. There's also no 40-man move that needs to be made at this point, a nice bonus from the contract structure.
If Baker does make the rotation, it will probably be Erasmo Ramirez who has to go back to AAA or shift to the bullpen, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, even for supporters of his. Nobody's going to stay healthy the entire year, and one of the reasons the Mariners were worse than anticipated last year was because they were forced to start guys like Hector Noesi and Jeremy Bonderman throughout the season, because there was nothing better waiting in the wings. Ramirez certainly projects better than those two, and still has the upside of a #4 type pitcher, if not better. If the Mariners get another pitcher, they could have two options. Depth is huge, and the Mariners are on the verge of having it.
I'll write more about Baker in a bit. For now, here's the blurb on him we wrote in the off-season plan.
Enter Scott Baker, who has finally returned from a disastrous two injury-plagued years to make three starts with the Cubs. Though Baker was paid $5.5 million with Chicago, he won't approach that again, and the Mariners have a chance to buy low on Baker while offering him performance incentives based on innings pitched. Before the injuries, Baker was a consistent 2-3 win pitcher with Minnesota, and while he's far from a pitcher the Mariners can rely on, his acquisition is a luxury lottery chip that could pay off. It's a stretch to pencil in Baker into the rotation ahead of both Walker and Paxton, but it gives the Mariners options. Baker is a reasonable long man in the bullpen as a guy who throws a ton of strikes. He can shift there as early as the Mariners want him to, but Baker represents an insurance plan who could still pay off on his own if given the opportunity. A one-year, $1.5 million deal with incentives up to $4 million should get it done.