Though by definition no non-roster guy is ever guaranteed a big league spot out of spring training, there are certainly different levels of likelihood for different guys. Mark Reynolds, for one, always seemed a virtual lock to be the Brewers starting first baseman despite his non-guaranteed contract. On the other end of the spectrum, Burt Reynolds was always viewed as a novelty invite by everyone except perhaps Burt Reynolds’ parents. Scott Baker, former Twins not-quite-ace, was aiming to show he was finally healthy after a couple of lost years. His upside placed him closer to Mark than Burt on the Reynolds Scale Of Non-Roster Invitees, but here we are today, with Baker officially a free agent after being released by the Seattle Mariners.
Baker may have been an NRI, but he was also viewed as an integral part of the 2014 Mariners and their plans for contention, which seem more far-fetched and underdeveloped with each passing day. At the start of spring many considered Baker the team’s number three starter behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, with the last two spots likely to go to young guns. But when injuries to Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker opened up a few rotation spots for the month of April, it was James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez who put their spots on lockdown while Baker fell in with the Randy Wolf/Blake Beavan crowd. In the end, Baker was asked to go to AAA while Blake Freakin’ Beavan remains in the hunt. Suffice to say, Baker did not go to AAA. At least, not yet. And not with the Mariners, of course.
So how did Baker go from third starter on an interesting upstart team to being cast aside in favor of Randy Wolf? After all, spring training statistics are known to be meaningless nonsense. But Baker’s a guy who’s always gotten by on his ability to throw strikes, and this spring, Baker didn’t throw strikes. He failed to throw strikes while maintaining the reduced velocity he flashed in his three starts with Chicago last season. Scott Baker used this spring to show how far he’s come. And while he’s certainly not a lost cause, there’s no doubt that he has a long way to go before he’s Scott Baker again.
Blake Beavan has looked bad this spring, largely because Blake Beavan is bad. Randy Wolf has looked alright, but perhaps all he’s needed to look is better than Baker, which he has. Roenis Elias is hanging around looking like Brandon Maurer 2.0, and seems poised to round out the rotation along with Wolf. Or, you know, the Mariners could be trying to acquire somebody, perhaps even somebody impactful.
Barring a difference-maker, there are plenty of other Scott Bakers out there, dudes who were recently discarded due to roster crunches and refusals of outright assignments. Our old friend Aaron Harang was recently released by Cleveland and immediately signed a major league deal with the Braves, so yeah, this is a legitimate route. This is just about how and when the M’s got Harang last year, and hey, maybe there’s a fifth starter alternative out there for cheap that the team simply prefers over Baker. Only time will tell.
Scott Baker, in the end, will never see game action as a Seattle Mariner. He was Mariners property for only the briefest of times, and instead of showing why he had been undervalued by the market, showed why the market valued him the way it did. He’ll go somewhere else and probably make it back to the majors at some point, perhaps even pitching alright. Scott Baker could probably still be something. But for now, he’s a minor league free agent, and the Mariners are left with a thin rotation that could desperately use some depth.