The surgery came as a surprise, as he was scheduled to undergo a procedure to clean up scar tissue on his flexor pronator tendon, but Dr. David Altchek decided Baker also needed his ulnar collateral ligament repaired once he began the operation.
Baker, though, said he was prepped for the possibility of the Tommy John surgery, as Altchek told him there was about a 20-percent chance he'd need the procedure.
"Initially, I was pretty emotional but I think a lot of it had to do with the anesthesia," Baker said of his first reaction. "Once it wore off and I kind of came to, I was in the right frame of mind and I talked to the doctor and he explained to me what was going on. I was OK with it. You can't make any guarantees, but he was fairly certain that the ligament would have gone shortly after."
Baker, 30, said the rehab time for the surgery is expected to be 9-12 months because the ulnar collateral ligament was not replaced. Instead, it was just strengthened with a tendon from near his hamstring. The rehab for the originally planned surgery was expected to be six months.
"There was no definitive tearing or detachment but he said what he performed was called a pickup," Baker said. "Basically you pick up a pair of tweezers and see how loose the ligament is. And he said it was a black-and-white issue to him that the ligament was too loose. It was not a good ligament. That's probably, in his opinion, the reason why the tendon was unable to recover."
Baker was placed on the disabled list twice last season with elbow problems, but came into Spring Training saying he was healthy and ready to go.
But his velocity was lacking, and he was told by manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson to try to let it fly during Spring Training.
He ended up being shut down due to soreness in his elbow before ultimately being placed on the disabled list before the start of the season. His final outing came in a rehab start with Class-A Fort Myers on April 5 and lasted just 11 pitches.
He had two MRI exams after the outing, but neither showed a UCL tear. However, Baker said he could tell something wasn't right with his elbow.
"I knew I wasn't crazy," Baker said. "I knew there was some speculation that maybe I was babying it or taking it easy, but good grief. I did everything I possibly could to get better and to try to pitch with it. But that just wasn't going to happen."
Baker added he has no ill will toward Gardenhire or Anderson, and is happy the surgery brings some finality to his elbow issues. He also cited the high success rate involved with Tommy John surgery as a reason for his optimism.
"I think the way, the nature of the injury, the ligament didn't happen overnight," Baker said. "I'm kind of anxious to see, one, what I'm capable of doing with a good, strong, healthy elbow, and the success rate of this surgery is extremely high. I know there's one thing to obviously regain the strength and range of motion with the elbow, and then there's the throwing program and then it's the feel of pitching, and that's kind of the last thing to come. I'm kind of anxious to see how things turn out."
Baker, who led the Twins with a 3.14 ERA last season, is expected to be a free agent after the season, as the club holds an option worth $9.25 million that will almost assuredly be declined. But Baker said he's still open to returning to Minnesota if they have interest in bringing him back.
"As far as contract status, gosh, why worry about it?" Baker said. "There's nothing I can do about it. You obviously think about it. I like being here, I like playing for the Twins. I mean, there's no guarantee that I'll throw another pitch for the Twins, but it's kind of all I know."