Phillies To Sign Taijuan Walker

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One day after landing Trea Turner on a stunning 11-year contract, the Phillies have bolstered their rotation by agreeing to a four-year right-handed free agent contract Taijuan Walkerreports Jon Heyman of the New York Post (Twitter links). Anthony DiComo of MLB.com adds that Walker, a client of the Boras Corporation, is guaranteed $72 million for the deal.

Walker, 30, is stepping into a deep and talented rotation headlined by co-aces Zak Wheeler and Aaron Nola. He joins lefty Ranger Suarez in third and fourth spots of a rotation with the fifth starter still to be determined. Philadelphia’s president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, said earlier this offseason that he planned to sign an experienced starter and leave a starting job open for one of the Phillies’ many in-house options — a list that currently includes left-handed players Bailey Falter and top prospects Andrew Painter, Mike Abel and Griff McGarry.

The Phils could add a little more depth, but based on Dombrowski’s earlier comments and the fact that they’ve pledged $372 million to Turner and Walker between them over the past day, it seems unlikely there’s another high-profile addition in store . After agreeing terms with Turner, Dombrowski expressed a desire to add a mid-rotation arm and add a back-end reliever—ideally without signing a free agent who has an eligible declined offer. The terms of Walker’s four-year deal have surpassed even the most optimistic of expectations, but he nonetheless ticks the first of those two boxes, ostensibly paving the way for the Phillies to shift their sights to the bullpen market.

Walker, once an elite pitching prospect who pitched just 14 innings from 2017-2018 due to shoulder and Tommy John surgeries, has been quick to shake the “injury prone” label once attached to his name. Since signing a one-year contract to return to the Mariners ahead of the 2020 season, the 6’4″, 235-pound righty has made a near-complete streak of starts: 11 games into the 60-game 2020 season to follow by 29 consecutive seasons starting with the Mets in 2021-22.

Along the way, Walker pitched to a 3.80 ERA with a strikeout rate of 21.5%, a walk rate of 7.8%, and a ground-ball rate of 43.4% in 369 2/3 innings. While hardly a flamethrower, Walker sits at 93-94 mph with his four-seamer and supplements that heating with a four-pitch mix of secondary offerings: splitter, sinker, slider, and a more rarely used curveball. He’s only averaged a little over 5 1/3 innings per start in recent years, but part of that could very well be a function of the Mets preferring to keep him sane.

While many teams are hesitant to let starters flip a lineup three times, Walker’s third-time-through-the-order splits are actually pretty strong. Since 2020, when he faced an opponent for the third time in a game, Walker has only completed a .232/.303/.391 batting line. That translates to a .303 wOBA tied with one of his new rotation mates, Nola, for 37th out of 132 starting pitchers in that three-year span.

As solid as Walker’s past seasons have been, the $72 million guarantee he got on his new contract remains a pretty glaring number. It’s been a bull market for starting pitchers so far, to say the least, but an annual value of $18 million over a four-year period represents a seismic leap forward in the mid-rotation arm market. Walker undoubtedly benefited from his relative youth and lack of a qualifying bid, but guarantees of this size for a pitcher of this caliber, while not unprecedented, are quite rare. Additionally, while we’ve seen starters of this sort land guarantees in this range in the past, the Royals drew John Kennedy for $70 MM, and the Marlins inked Wei Yin Chen for $80 million – they’re usually spread out over a five-year term. Precedent for an AAV of this size, over a relatively long term deal, as this caliber pitcher is in short supply.

None of that is a blow to Walker, who has pitched well in his three years since returning from those few seasons lost to injury. And if Walker can continue to pitch at a pace particularly consistent with his output in 2022, he will ultimately justify the deal. That said, he’s reached 150 innings just four times in his major league career and logged a sub-4.00 ERA just twice in a 162-game campaign, so he expects to replicate his output in 2022 – especially in light of a shaky batting profile – would be quite optimistic.

However, the Phillies needed some stability Kyle Gibson, Zach Eflin and Noah Syndergaard all achieve freedom of choice, and gun prices have been high this winter. Eflin, for example, landed a $13.33 million AAV in a three-year deal with the all-team low-budget Rays, doing so after a season in which he pitched just 75 2/3 innings. Gibson, who turned 35 in October and posted a 5.05 ERA in 31 starts for the Phillies, still secured a $10 million guarantee on a one-year deal in Baltimore. The price of average or better innings – and the price for pitchers who can reliably deliver those innings – appears to have risen in the early stages of the newly established 2022-26 collective bargaining agreement.

More to come.


The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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