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Cubs sign Baker for rotation spot

MINNEAPOLIS MN - JUNE 18: Scott Baker #30 MinnesotTwins delivers pitch against San Diego Padres first inning June 18 2011

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 18: Scott Baker #30 of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the San Diego Padres in the first inning on June 18, 2011 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

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Updated: December 15, 2012 6:29AM

With the signing Tuesday of free-agent pitcher Scott Baker, the Cubs not only filled one of their two openings in the starting rotation, they also showed how they view medical risks and what they think of the free-agent market.

Baker, the former Minnesota Twin who didn’t pitch last season after having Tommy John surgery, signed a one-year deal for $5.5 million, plus $1.5 million in workload incentives.

‘‘If you have to sign a pitcher who is coming off surgery, Tommy John is the one you want him to come off because it’s a very predictable rehab with a very strong success rate, upwards of 95 percent,’’ team president Theo Epstein said of the ligament-replacement procedure in his elbow.

Epstein said Baker’s progress in the seven months since his surgery and his recent test results make the Cubs believe he’ll be ready to open the season on time, even though he wasn’t able to throw for interested teams.

‘‘You don’t set out looking for Tommy John guys,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘But the reality is it’s not exactly a buyer’s market for pitching out there right now. You have to take your risks.

‘‘Do you want to take a risk on the guy with bad makeup? Do you want to take a risk on the guy with bad command? Or do you want to take a risk on a guy you really believe in who’s coming off Tommy John surgery at an appropriate value point. We’re very comfortable placing our bet on Scott Baker.’’

The Cubs, who expect to add one more starter this winter, also expect to get a report this week on starter Matt Garza after a scan on the ‘‘stress reaction’’ in his elbow that ended his season in July.

Baker, 31, was 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 2011. He missed six weeks late in the season because of the elbow.

He has a history of good command and a good reputation off the field and in the clubhouse. Epstein said those traits help make him a candidate for an extension if the season goes well, rather than a candidate to be flipped at the trade deadline.

‘‘This is an underrated pitcher and someone who has a very consistent track record of success. He does things that we value,’’ Epstein said.

Baker said he expects to be ready when the season opens.

‘‘This is an unbelievable opportunity for me and my family,’’ he said. ‘‘Obviously, it’s a big season for me personally, coming off an injury, but I wanted somewhere that my family could enjoy and where I could help the team be productive.’’

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