Baker aware of trade rumors
Rockies utilityman homers twice amid ongoing speculation
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Rockies infielder Jeff Baker knows opportunity, and one came his way Wednesday afternoon.
Baker's first-inning drive off the Angels' Jered Weaver smashed against the center-field wall and off the nose of center fielder Torii Hunter. As Hunter lay in pain and the ball lay near the wall, Baker sprinted out a two-run, inside-the-park homer. He would park a traditional two-run shot off Weaver in the third.
But when the season begins, where Baker's opportunities will come from -- which position he'll play or the team he'll play for -- is anyone's guess. As the days of Spring Training dwindle, the number of teams reported to be interested grow.
Often a player in Baker's position thinks of himself as playing for 30 teams. Baker tries to avoid that thinking, but it can be hard.
"You'd like to think you're playing just for one," Baker said. "But the reality of it is I've been hearing a lot of it, been asked a lot of questions about it in the last four or five days. Obviously, that's out three. You just try to put it in the back of your mind and go out there and play. But I'd be lying if I said I was not aware of it."
The specter of a trade on the horizon is not necessarily a scary one.
Baker, 27, has been blocked ever since debuting with the Rockies in 2005. The last two years, he has played both outfield corners, third base, second base and even some limited time at first base, but hasn't cracked the regular lineup. Injuries slowed his progress in the Minors and early in his Major League career. At least last year he was healthy, and he hit .268 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs in a career-high 104 games.
He's still elbowing through a crowd on the roster.
This spring, infielder Omar Quintanilla has shown signs of being more than just a glove man. Backup outfielders Scott Podsednik, Matt Murton and Daniel Ortmeier have made cases for roster inclusion, and center-field prospect Dexter Fowler has played well enough to have the club thinking he just might be able to skip Triple-A. The Rockies also are testing power-hitting third base-type Ian Stewart at second and in the outfield.
If Baker, who is out of Minor League options, is dealt, the Rockies would be trading from strength. Baker, who missed two weeks of camp with an elbow injury, has potential for power and run production with regular playing time.
That's why Baker has become a regular topic in trade rumors, involving the Astros, Phillies, Pirates and Yankees.
Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd said Wednesday that trade reports are premature. Recent injuries to infielders Troy Tulowitzki and Garrett Atkins have curbed the enthusiasm for dealing. Besides, upgrades to the pitching that the Rockies -- and everyone else -- seek aren't available this time of year.
With Tulowitzki and Atkins possibly ready to return for Thursday's game with the Dodgers at Hi Corbett Field, things could heat up again next week.
"We're making tons of evaluations," O'Dowd said. "I want to make sure everybody's healthy."
Performances like Wednesday's certainly could figure into evaluations. Baker said he doesn't concern himself with trying to show the Rockies that they need him.
"I've never been a big show-me guy," Baker said. "I just try to go out there and do what I'm capable of doing. The rest will take care of itself. If it's good enough, it's good enough. If it's not, then it's not. That's just the game itself."
Rockies bench coach Jim Tracy, who ran the squad while manager Clint Hurdle stayed back in Tucson, said Baker has been a player his former clubs (the Dodgers and Pirates) respected.
"He's an excellent offensive player, and there's no getting around it," Tracy said. "Four at-bats today, four hits and he squared every one of them up."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.