Taijuan Walker, who had a very good year for the Mets in 2022 (29 starts, 3.49 ERA, 1.195 WHIP, 2.6 bWAR), was considered by the Cubs before Spring Training in 2020, when he was a free agent coming off two injury-plagued years with the Diamondbacks.
The Cubs, at the time, were willing to only offer a minor-league deal with money if he made the Opening Day roster. He wound up signing a one-year, $2 million deal with the Mariners, who were the team that originally drafted him back in 2010. Of course, the 2020 season got shortened by the pandemic and Walker wound up in Toronto, traded there at the deadline for a minor leaguer.
Walker signed a two-year, $20 million deal with the Mets prior to the 2021 season. This contract called for $10 million ($8 million by contract and a $2 million signing bonus) in 2021, $7 million in 2022 and a $6 million player option or $3 million buyout for 2023.
It seems likely, after that good year in 2022, that Walker will opt out of the player option, take the buyout and test free agency.
It’s hard to believe that Walker is just 30 years old. He was drafted back in 2010, by Seattle, who got three years of roughly league-average starter work from him before trading him to Arizona, where someone changed his delivery to shorten his stride and, perhaps not coincidentally, he got hurt, missing almost all of 2018 and 2019. Three stops later, he enters free agency having remade himself as a strike-thrower with an out pitch in his splitter, a pitch he barely used prior to Tommy John surgery. Hitters have an extremely hard time elevating the ball against him; the average launch angle on the pitch when hitters do make contact is -1 degree. Of balls hit in play off Walker’s splitter, 55 percent where at 0 degrees or less, meaning parallel to or towards the ground, and only 6 percent were hit in the 26-30 degree launch angle range where balls hit 95 mph or harder are considered Barrels by Statcast, which means they’re really likely to be extra-base hits. You can go a long way with a pitch like that, and Walker throws it almost as often as he throws his four-seamer. He gives up too much hard contact on other pitches to project or pay him as more than a fourth starter but I could see him being that for a long time. I’d give him 3 years and $14-15 million per, and he should probably get four-year offers given his age.
Walker turned 30 in August; he’s about a year younger than his former Mets teammate Marcus Stroman.
Law’s note about elevating the ball off Walker is important; he has had a good home run rate (0.9 per nine innings) for his entire career, which would be useful if Wrigley Field became his home park.
Most Cubs fans think the team needs a TOR starter, and Walker isn’t quite that, though he’d look pretty good in the team’s rotation. Jed Hoyer is certainly familiar with him, as noted above the Cubs wanted to bring him in three years ago.
I think the numbers in Law’s comment are reasonable and I wouldn’t be unhappy if the Cubs added Walker to their rotation.
What say you?
This poll is closed
... the Cubs should sign him for a deal similar to the one proposed by Keith Law
... the Cubs should sign him, but for less money than Law proposed
... the Cubs should sign him, but it will cost more in money or years or both than Law’s proposal
... the Cubs should not sign him
Something else (leave in comments)