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Scott Baker Joins Roster Mix

Scott Baker, back in the day (Keith Allison, photographer)
The Mariners made a couple small moves today, ditching Carlos Peguero on the Royals for cash or a player to be named later, and signing Scott Baker to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training (plus incentives for innings pitched). The Peguero move is minor - he was already in DFA limbo - though I will miss his mammoth at-bats in Tacoma. He was a fun one to watch, much in the same way Dan Cortes was a few years back. POWER and FATAL FLAWS, which will win?! In AAA, the outcome wasn't so certain as it is in the majors. Hence the fun.

The more interesting move is Scott Baker, who has been rumored as a fit for the Mariners for some time now. He joins Mark Rogers on the M's scrap heap of possible rotation arms, though is much stronger bet than Rogers, given that Rogers has struggled to throw strikes throughout his minor league career. Baker, on the other hand, sports 17.5 career WAR in nearly 1,000 MLB innings.

Baker, now 33 years old, isn't exactly a workhorse, given that he has only topped 200 innings once in his career. He also doesn't do anything particularly well - he has a decent strikeout rate, good walk rate, average home run rate, his fair share of ground balls, doesn't work all that deep into ballgames - literally no stand-out skill. However, Baker also doesn't have any real flaws, and no flaws over 170-ish innings racks up some surprising WAR.

Now, there is the possibility that Baker is finished, particularly given that he had Tommy John surgery in 2012. However, he made it back for three starts right at the end of last season and held his own. Many Tommy John arms bounce back more the second year after returning to the mound too, so there is a non-zero chance that Scott Baker gets stronger as 2014 wears on. If he does, the Mariners have themselves a solid rotation arm.

Frankly, a roster spot is Baker's to lose. His contract reportedly includes incentives tied to innings pitched. The only way he doesn't crack the rotation is if both James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez look good in spring training, and in that case Baker is likely a bullpen arm.

Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, the top arms left in free agency, have had some up-and-down years recently, though both entered the market after "up" seasons. Baker hits the market "down." He probably isn't as good as Santana or Jimenez, but there isn't a $10 million talent gap between them, and his contract isn't about to make things awkward if/when more of the M's young arms are ready for a try in the rotation. It's been a while since I've felt this good about a move the Mariners made.