For utility man Baker, Marlins were an ideal fit

For utility man Baker, Marlins were an ideal fit

JUPITER, Fla. -- When targeting potential free agents, Jeff Baker fit the profile the Marlins were seeking.

Professional. Proven winner. Character. Good teammate.

The fact the 32-year-old also is versatile, and provides some power from the right side, also weighed in his favor.

Once mutual interest was established, it became a matter of hammering out a contract. A week before the start of Spring Training, on Feb. 7, Baker's agent, Scott Boras, and the Marlins finalized a two-year, $3.7 million deal.

"The Marlins were one of the teams that checked in all winter," Baker said. "I know how it is. When you're a utility guy, teams have to knock out their budget, and their needs they've got to address early in the winter. I had no issues waiting. We had a couple of offers that were very good fits, and we liked this one best."

In Baker, the Marlins have a utility player capable of playing third, second and first base, along with a corner-outfield spot.

"He's a great professional, first and foremost, and his versatility to play three spots in the infield and corner outfield," Marlins bench coach Rob Leary said. "He's a good professional hitter. That's what we're looking forward to him doing this year."

For the Marlins on Friday night, having Baker back in the lineup was a welcome sight, because earlier in this week he suffered a minor injury against the Mets in Port St. Lucie.

Baker on Monday strained his left quadriceps, but as a precaution he was held out until the Mets were at Roger Dean Stadium on Friday.

"So far, things are going as planned, it wasn't that bad," Baker said.

Baker tweaked his leg while getting out of the batter's box on a ground ball to second base. As a precaution, manager Mike Redmond took him out.

"When I did it, I told Red I could probably stay in, he said, 'I'm not taking any chances,' " Baker said. "I went through the rehab the last couple of days, and I feel good to go out there and play, that's for sure."

Baker had some tough luck in his first at-bat on Friday, scorching a line drive in the first inning right at second baseman Danny Muno, who turned the hot shot into a double play.

The plan is to give Baker a day off Saturday, and he is scheduled to travel to Fort Myers on Sunday to face the Twins.

Baker prides himself on being a tough out.

With the Rangers last season, he was a situational player for a team that scored plenty of runs.

For the Marlins to make strides at the plate this season, they will be relying heavily on situational hitting. In a big stadium like Marlins Park, players will be encouraged to not try to do too much.

"Two things kind of play into it. With the ballpark, you know how big it is, I think it's huge to have guys that grind out at-bats," Baker said. "It doesn't have to be the home runs. It doesn't have to be the power. It's literally just grinding out at-bats, whether it's laying off some tough pitches early in the count that you probably could put in play but you can't do any damage with.

"It's laying off of that, and then just trusting the guy behind you. Turn the lineup over to him, and keeping it going, and being productive. The guys they brought in, just from playing against them, those are guys who are professional hitters. They grind out at-bats. I think it's something that can be contagious, especially for younger guys."

With the Rangers, Baker batted .279 with a .360 on-base percentage, plus 11 home runs in 74 games in 2013.

Baker broke in with the Rockies in 2005, and he's also played for the Cubs, Tigers and Braves.

"I wanted to be in the National League again," Baker said. "I felt being a utility guy, there was a little more opportunity in the National League, even though I loved playing in Texas. They were able to find at-bats for me there, and I had a good role there."

Baker also wanted to be on the East Coast, and despite the Marlins coming off a 62-100 season, the veteran saw a promising situation.

"When we started breaking it down and looking at teams, obviously, with 100 losses, it's not ideally what you want," Baker said. "But with the young power arms that they have, and the young talent they have here, I don't think this team is as far away as everybody thinks."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.