Blue Jays: The argument against re-signing Taijuan Walker

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 15: Taijuan Walker #00 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on as Aaron Hicks #31 of the New York Yankees rounds the bases during the second inning at Yankee Stadium on September 15, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 15: Taijuan Walker #00 of the Toronto Blue Jays looks on as Aaron Hicks #31 of the New York Yankees rounds the bases during the second inning at Yankee Stadium on September 15, 2020 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images) /
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The Blue Jays have a clear need near the top of their rotation in 2021, and their own pending free agent Taijuan Walker is a debatable choice to fill the role.

We’ve already talked about the Blue Jays’ need for starting pitching in 2021 quite a bit, and free agency hasn’t even officially started yet.

The Blue Jays should return a group of starting pitchers that includes Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Ross Stripling, Tanner Roark, Anthony Kay, Trent Thornton, and many more, but depth isn’t really the problem. What the Jays could really use is someone to slot into their #2 starter’s role behind Ryu, lengthening the group overall, taking some pressure off of Pearson, and raising the floor of the rotation in general. There will options this off-season, and I would imagine that their own pending free agent in Taijuan Walker is at or near the top of the list of their targets.

However, it’s fair to ask if that’s a wise decision, even if he performed incredibly well during his cameo as a Blue Jay.

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For what it’s worth, I’m very much in favour of the idea of re-signing the 28-year-old for a number of reasons. He reportedly enjoyed his time as a Blue Jay, and as I’ve already mentioned, his stats were very impressive after he joined his new club, posting a 1.37 ERA and a 1.253 WHIP over 26.1 innings. In a lot of ways it was a step up from the 4.00 ERA and 1.073 WHIP he had as a Mariner before the trade, but any way you slice it, Walker had a great season right before hitting the free agent market.

That said, it’s fair to wonder where his true value lies, and how the free agent market will value his services this winter. Prior to his breakout stint with the Blue Jays, I’m not sure how many would have considered him as a #2 starter for a potential contending team. He had a 4.17 ERA and a 1.203 WHIP over 67 career starts and parts of five seasons as a Mariner (2013-16, 2020), and a 3.47 ERA and a 1.342 WHIP across three seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks (2017-19). However, injuries took him out for all but 14 innings in 2018 and 2019, so this past season was huge for re-establishing his value.

Walker proved himself to be healthy this past season, so I’m not sure I’d worry about that a whole lot more than you do with any starting pitcher. That said, it’s going to be an interesting place for his agent to negotiate from after he performed at near-ace levels in 2020, but doesn’t really have the track record to match it. He’s always had a ton of promise and entered the big leagues with a fair bit of hype, but until recently I don’t know that you could argue that he’s fulfilled it.

As I’ve already said, I’m in favour of the Blue Jays re-signing Walker, but that statement comes with a bit of a caveat. I like the idea as long as they’re not overpaying for his services, or expecting too much from him going forward. I think it’s fair to gamble on the high-end of his future, but more realistically, I feel like he’s a very solid mid-rotation guy, ideally your #3 starter. If Pearson can progress to his potential in the next season or two, it could work very well.

On the other hand, I don’t think that Walker is the type that we should view as a “1b” along with Ryu, and that’s what the Blue Jays could really use. In the event that it takes close to or more than 20 million per season to retain Walker’s services, you could make an argument that there are better fits at that sort of rate. Maybe that’s found on the free agent market with someone like a Trevor Bauer, or Masahiro Tanaka, or perhaps it that money could be included in a trade acquisition, which is a real possibility during a winter when many GM’s will be looking to cut some payroll.

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At the end of the day, I guess my fear is that the Blue Jays (and that includes you and I) might be overvaluing what Walker brings to the table, especially based on the audition he provided this season. I’m not very good at arguing against the idea of signing him altogether, but there are cons to consider like career norms, injury history, and the true needs of the rotation. Provided he’s not being paid as a high-end #2 starter and asked to perform like one, I like the idea of retaining him. However, I fear that re-signing him means that’s exactly what the Blue Jays will be looking for, and I’m not so sure that it’s a great bet to make.

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