We’ve been hearing rumblings about this for a while, but today—the day of pitchers and catchers reporting—things came into sharper focus as Taijuan Walker turned up in the Mariners’ clubhouse. Nothing has been announced by the team yet but—
By all indications, Walker is going to sign with the Mariners.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) February 12, 2020
And sharper focus yet!
Pitcher Taijuan Walker and the Seattle Mariners are in agreement on a one-year, $2 million contract, league sources tell ESPN. Walker can earn up to $3 million total based on incentives.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 12, 2020
It’s a fairly modest deal, which could explain why there’s been such a delay between hearing about the team’s interest in Walker and confirmation of his signing. Walker had been said to be weighing his options; most recently he threw for the Cubs, who were also considered among the favorites to sign him. During his showcase bullpens two weeks ago, Walker’s fastball sat in the 85-88 mph range, less than ideal, but also somewhat understandable considering his lengthy rehab from Tommy John in 2018, further complicated by a sprained shoulder capsule in 2019. In his one appearance for Arizona last year after returning from injury, Walker was 94 on the gun in a scoreless inning where he gave up a hit and struck out a batter, so don’t panic too much about the 8s in front of his velocity. For a deeper dive into Walker’s stuff (including CHARTS!), check out this piece John wrote back in January when the rumors started swirling.
Signing Taijuan opens the Mariners up to the possibility of running a six-man
roster rotation in 2020, which would be advantageous to the younger pitchers like Dunn and Sheffield still building up their MLB resume, as well as Taijuan himself as he continues to build innings. They could also stick with the five-man rotation and go with a paired or piggyback start, as we saw last year with Sheffield and others.
While signing Walker made sense from a baseball standpoint, it also feels right from a fan standpoint. Mariners fans are confronted this year with a roster full of players who, aside from Kyle Seager, haven’t been Mariners longer than three years. Canceling FanFest further distanced the fans from the on-field product. While this regime has done everything they can to remove themselves from the failures of the Jack Z regime, signing Taijuan—drafted and developed and drooled over in-house, a reminder of the last time the Mariners had a renown farm system—is a bit of comforting familiarity for fans who feel the current major-league team to be unrecognizable. In a year like 2020, where PECOTA projects the Mariners to be the second-worst team in baseball, Mariners fans will need every scrap of comfort they can get.