Blue Jays: Taijuan Walker is the one who got away this past off-season
Prior to the 2021 season, the Toronto Blue Jays were interested in multiple free agents, garnering lots of attention on the rumour market throughout the entire off-season. While they did walk away with George Springer and Marcus Semien alongside some bullpen arms, the additions of Robbie Ray and southpaw Steven Matz were the only additions to the rotation.
While the Blue Jays dodged a bullet by not signing James Paxton (done for the season after Tommy John surgery) and Trevor Bauer (potential legal issues), there is one pitcher that Ross Atkins may regret not signing.
Last year, the Blue Jays traded prospect Alberto Rodriguez to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. The right-hander struggled to stay healthy through the 2018 and 2019 seasons but he returned with a vengeance in 2020. After the trade, he would appear in six games for the Blue Jays, throwing to a 1.37 ERA through 26.1 innings with 11 walks and 25 strikeouts, helping the Jays secure a spot in the Wild Card playoffs.
The Louisiana native would become a free agent at the end of the season and would sign a three-year, $23 million dollar contract with the New York Mets, with the 2023 season (the third year) being a player option for $6 million.
The Toronto Blue Jays were interested in Taijuan Walker this past off-season, and while the pitcher ended up signing with the New York Mets, it seems like Ross Atkins will regret not signing the right-hander after the season he is having so far.
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Overall, this contract may look like a steal, as the right-hander is currently sporting a 2.44 ERA through 15 starts with the Mets, striking out 87 batters through 85.0 innings to a 1.012 WHIP. One could argue that there is no guarantee that Walker would pitch the same way if he was in a Jays uniform, but a sub 3.00 ERA is hard to tune out when the rotation went through some struggles back in May/June with Matz, Ross Stripling, and the numerous bullpen games before the promotion of Alek Manoah.
While Stripling has turned around the rocky start, there is no question that having Walker on the roster could have been a difference-maker in the close games earlier this season. What makes this situation even more painful is that Ross Atkins apparently did not extend Walker a formal contract offer, meaning he could have possibly matched the money/terms that New York signed him to.
Thankfully, Ray has been picking up the slack in the rotation, throwing to a 3.36 ERA with 119 strikeouts through 93.2 innings and helping the Blue Jays when ace Hyun Jin Ryu went through a rough stretch through June.
The Blue Jays may have missed the boat on Taijuan Walker this off-season, the rotation is starting to put together some quality outings as the team heads into the All-Star break. Ryu bounced back with a solid outing a few days ago and Manoah has been pitching well since his promotion to the big leagues. Ray has been a consistent pitcher after reeling in the control issues and Stripling made some adjustments that are producing results that keep seeing his ERA trending in the right direction. Substitute Matz for Walker and the Blue Jays have a rotation that could easily combat the rest of the AL East division.
Ross Atkins and the front office have made some trades to upgrade the bullpen and one would think they aren’t done yet with a few weeks to go before the July trade deadline. While Walker is most likely off the board, there are a few other pitchers who could be available to improve the rotation/bullpen that could see the Blue Jays contend for a playoff spot come September.