Could the Blue Jays reunite with a former trade deadline acquisition?
Back in 2020, the season was cut short due to COVID-19 and a young Blue Jays squad was looking to improve at the trade deadline to make a run at their first postseason since 2016.
The Jays front office made quite a few moves, sending two prospects to the Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Ross Stripling, trading cash and reliever Travis Bergen to the Diamondbacks for LHP Robbie Ray, and sending OF Griffin Conine to the Marlins in exchange for INF Jonathan Villar. It was a busy trade deadline for Ross Atkins and co.
Before all of those trades though, the Blue Jays first made a deal with the Seattle Mariners on August 27th, acquiring right-hander Taijuan Walker in exchange for a player to be named later, which turned into prospect OF Alberto Rodriguez.
Splitting time with Seattle and Arizona from 2013-2020, Walker had been sidelined with injuries in both 2018 and 2019 that saw him appear in just four games combined for the Diamondbacks. Returning to Seattle in 2020, the Lousiana product was having a bounce back campaign health wise, starting five games for the Mariners during the shortened season.
The Jays acquired Walker for rotation help for the back half of the campaign and he did exactly that, throwing to a 1.37 ERA through six starts while striking out 25 batters through 26.1 innings. The sample size was small, but the right-hander helped the Jays win four out of the five games he started.
The Jays would eventually get swept in the AL Wild Card by the Tampa Bay Rays and Walker signed a two-year deal with the New York Mets for $20 million, with a player option for the 2023 season. The 30-year-old recently opted out of his contract and is now a free agent, with the Mets also deciding to not present him with a qualifying offer, meaning he is not tied to draft pick compensation
Is Taijuan Walker a potential fit for the Blue Jays?
Looking at the free agent market, journalists across different networks have various predictions for where Walker will end up. Kiley McDaniel at ESPN has Walker rated as the 11th top free agent this winter with an AAV of $15 million. Will Laws and Nick Selbe have him ranked at #21 with a prediction of the Minnesota Twins signing him while Keith Law at The Athletic had Walker at #12 with an AAV prediction similar to McDaniel at $14-15 million AAV.
Walker didn't have the strongest inaugural season with the Mets but posted solid numbers last year, posting a 3.49 ERA through 29 starts while racking up a 7.6 K/9. He features a six-pitch mix with a fastball in the mid-90s and a splitter that features 32.6 inches of drop, mixing in a slider, sinker, curveball, and cutter to round out the arsenal. He did get hit hard last year, sitting in the 26th percentile of HardHit% but was dependable on the mound, going six innings or more in 52% of the games he started while only giving up 61 earned runs on the season.
Adding Walker into the Blue Jays rotation would slot him towards the #3 or #4 spot and would feature nicely alongside Kevin Gausman, Alek Manoah, and José Berríos, especially if Ross Stripling doesn't return. He can give the Blue Jays some solid outings while also being more dependable than other internal options like Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White, with both players battling it out for starting reps next Spring.
This fit likely hinges on whether Stripling does return, as he will be in the same ballpark in terms of AAV. If Stripling does decide to pitch elsewhere, Walker is a good fit for the Blue Jays to take his spot in the rotation on a multi-year deal.