“The Rise of Tai Walker”, Mariners ink fan favorite to 1-year deal

The transaction most requested by Mariners fans for a majority of this off-season appears to be nearly official.

As Mariners pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday morning, we had no idea of what kind of pleasant surprise we would be treated to. As the media began their 7-week stay in Arizona, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported that Taijuan Walker was in the building.

Walker, who was famously a part of the Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura trade, was indeed at the Peoria Sports Complex to finalize a new contract with the Seattle Mariners. It is now being reported that Walker has signed a 1-year deal worth $2 million, with the possibility to earn another $1 million with performance incentives.

Walker began his career as a highly-touted prospect with a mid-90s fastball and a chance to be the #2 to a younger Felix Hernandez someday. Walker made his debut in 2013 but didn’t establish himself as an MLB starter until 2015.

From 2013-2016, Walker posted a 4.18 ERA, a 4.30 FIP, with 322 strikeouts in 357 innings. Not bad for a pitcher in his age 20-23 seasons, but not quite good enough to payoff the hype surrounding him when he entered the big leagues.

Walker posted another solid season with the Diamondbacks in 2017, including a 3.49 ERA and a 4.04 FIP. But Walker missed almost all of 2018 and 2019 due to various injuries, including a Tommy John surgery, before the Diamondbacks non-tendered him a contract this winter.

Walker was said to have many suitors this winter, with as many as 12 potential suitors at least touching base with his camp. Seattle showed interest in Walker early and all indications were that Taijuan had no ill-will towards the Mariners. The fit was so obvious, that many assumed a deal would get done. And now it has.

Walker threw a bullpen in front of 20 or so scouts a few weeks back and reports indicated that he was sitting 88-89 MPH with the fastball. This is a bit of a concern, as Walker traditionally sits in the 90s, and this will be worth monitoring this spring.

Walker will enter Mariners camp competing for the 5th rotation spot. He is expected to compete with Nick Margevicius, Wei Yin-Chen, Justin Dunn, and others for the spot. Walker’s contract is reported as an MLB deal, so he may be considered the favorite at this time. A corresponding roster move will need to be made before the deal becomes official.

At the end of the day, the Mariners added a useful, big-league arm with considerable upside for what amounts to the spare coins in your couch. There is no downside in the contract and there could be a considerable upside as well. Walker will become one of the most talked-about players this spring and has a chance to re-establish himself in MLB circles before hitting the open market again next winter.