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Updated: September 30th, 2012 1:55pm
Twins have 'a decision' to make on rehabbing starter Scott Baker

Twins have 'a decision' to make on rehabbing starter Scott Baker

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Twins will focus hard this offseason on fixing a starting pitching staff that owns the American League's worst ERA.

One of the wildcards in that mix is right-hander Scott Baker, who underwent Tommy John surgery on April 17.

Baker recently started throwing from 120 feet on flat ground, and the plan is for him to stretch out to 180 feet, take a few weeks off, then start throwing from a mound in late December or early January. If everything goes well, the goal is for Baker to be ready for game action by the time spring training comes around.

But his status with the Twins is somewhat complicated.

Baker is currently in the final year of a four-year, $15.25 million deal that pays him $6.5 million this season. The Twins have a $9.25 million team option for 2013, and it seems highly unlikely they'd exercise that and make Baker the team's highest-paid pitcher coming off surgery.

The Twins do have interest in bringing Baker back, but they'd likely need to monitor his progress this offseason -- and watch how he progresses once he begins throwing off a mound -- before offering him what could be a reduced, incentive-laden salary.

General manager Terry Ryan declined to elaborate on how the team plans to approach Baker's contract situation this offseason, other than to say, "We've got a decision to make," adding, "If you think he's going to be able to contribute in 2013, the answer is yes (we do have interest)."

Baker, who was drafted by the Twins in the second round of the 2003 draft, indicated he wants to return to Minnesota, but if -- or, more accurately, when -- he hits free agency he will keep his options open.

"I guess the most logical thing is first to see if they pick up the option or not," Baker said. "Obviously the ball's in their court as far as that goes. Obviously there's a lot of speculation one way or the other. I haven't heard anything personally. I think that would be the most logical, and then go from there. As far as working out, I don't know if it's necessary to work out for other teams or not. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Maybe somebody wants to see something, maybe they don't. I don't know. ...

"I'd like to be back. I mean, I know there's other great organizations out there, but this is all I know. I've been here, and I've enjoyed my time here, my family likes it here. There haven't been any talks yet, but I've let them know that I'm definitely open to hearing what they have to say. Whether they choose to pick up the option or not, that's up to them. It's something that I'd definitely be interested in at least listening to what they have to say for sure."

Baker has gone through his entire rehab process to this point at Target Field, which is a luxury Twins players didn't have prior to the new ballpark being build. Rehabbing at Target Field also means the Twins know Baker's progress better than any other team should he become a free agent.

"I think the success rate of Tommy John kind of speaks for itself," Baker said. "And I think maybe if anything, just to make sure that I'm progressing, more than anything. I don't think it's necessary for teams to see that. Obviously that's one reason for doing the rehab here is because they got to see it. It's not like I'm down in Florida and they're here. They're getting to see it.

"That was one of the main reasons. One, they allowed me to do it up here, but one reason I wanted to do the rehab up here was not only just to be around the guys, but so they could see the progress that's been made."

Baker said he has looked at St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Adam Wainwright's path as a possible model for his own. Wainwright underwent surgery on Feb. 28, 2011, and he has come back to post a 3.94 ERA in 198 2/3 innings this season.

"He had surgery three to four weeks ahead of me (on the timeline), but basically the same timeline as I'm on," Baker said. "To see what he did just as far as the throwing program, how much time did he take off, some things like that. There's guys in this room that have had it and obviously have had success after.

"So I'm not even worried about any part of that aspect of coming back 100 percent. I know I work hard, I know the success of the surgery is, they can't say 100 percent, but I feel like if you put the work in it'll take care of itself."

In seven seasons with the Twins, Baker owns a 4.15 ERA in 958 innings. Prior to experiencing elbow inflammation last summer, Baker was the Twins' best starter, posting a 3.14 ERA with 123 strikeouts in 134 2/3 innings.

Elbow discomfort hindered him at various points in 2010 and 2011.

"Just the idea of being able to pick up a bal and throw it without dealing with all that extra stuff that you shouldn't have to deal with," Baker said. "It is exciting, there's no doubt about it, whether it's here or there -- either way, I'm excited because I know I'll have a chance to focus on pitching and not so much the rehabilitation or getting ready for each outing aspect of it."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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