When the Cubs acquired Jeff Baker from the Colorado Rockies last July, the deal went largely unnoticed. Baker had been bogged down by injuries, limiting him to 12 games with the Rockies before the trade. In fact, Baker's appearance with the Cubs on July 3 was his first since April 26.
Once he got healthy, however, Baker out-performed the Cubs' wildest expectations. He batted .305/.362/.448 in 69 games, and played very good defense at both second and third base. His versatility and on-base aptitude made him manager Lou Piniella's primary second baseman by the end of the season, and he seems poised to hold down that role into Opening Day of 2010.
Baker reached arbitration for the first time this winter, and will make close to a million dollars in 2010. Still, his value should far exceed his salary again next season, especially if Chicago can protect him from some tough right-handed pitchers. Baker's prospective platoon partner, Mike Fontenot, can offer solid relief in that department.
For his career, Baker's OPS against right-handed pitching is a rather meager .727. Against southpaws, however, that number skyrockets to .889. In roughly one-third of his career plate appearances, Baker has 15 of his 26 career home runs against left-handed hurlers. That makes him extremely valuable as a platoon player, and if he continues his defensive prowess, he is a highly valuable all-around player.
Furthermore, Baker's multi-positional defensive skills allow him to retain his value even if Starlin Castro bumps Ryan Theriot from shortstop to second base. Baker could then move to the bench, and play any of the three outfield positions, second or third base.
Keeping all of these things in mind, here are my projections for Baker this season:
- 125 games
- 384 plate appearances
- .276/.337/.445 AVG/OBP/SLG
- 10 home runs