In a season with no stakes, the Mariners made a why-not transaction Wednesday when they signed former No. 1 draft choice Taijuan Walker, 27, to a one-year contract, in case he has something left after Tommy John surgery in April 2018.
ESPN reported Walker will get $2 million on a one-year deal, with performance bonuses that could raise the total to $3 million. As spring training opened, he was added to the 40-man roster after RHP Austin Adams was put the 60-day injury list following knee surgery to repair a torn ACL.
“We’re excited to bring Taijuan back to Seattle,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said in club statement. “We believe our opportunity and his skill set are a great match and know that, if healthy, he can be an impact Major League starter for us.”
From 2013-16 with the Mariners, Walker was 22-22 with a 4.18 ERA with 99 walks and 322 strikeouts. Athletically, Walker, at 6-4 and 235 pounds, was likened by some to NFL QB Cam Newton, and was taken with a first-round pick (43rd overall) in the 2010 draft out of Yucaipa, CA, High School.
Let’s gooo!! 💪🏾💪🏾 pic.twitter.com/SijPsjyvdt
— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) February 12, 2020
He was one of “the big three” that included James Paxton and Danny Hultzen, who were hyped as premier pitching prospects destined for long-term success in the Mariners rotation. But injuries derailed Hultzen, and while Paxton and Walker had success with Seattle, both were traded.
Walker was swapped to Arizona Nov. 23, 2016, along with INF Ketel Marte in exchange for SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger and LHP Zac Curtis. With Arizona, he appeared in parts of three seasons (2017-2019), posting a 9-9 record with a 3.47 ERA with 66 walks and 156 strikeouts.
Walker had a career-best 3.49 ERA in 2017, but has appeared in four games since the start of 2018. He tore his right ulnar collateral ligament on April 14, 2018, and underwent Tommy John surgery two weeks later. He pitched a single scoreless inning in September 2019. His recovery was slowed in May by a sprained shoulder.
If all goes well, Walker will join the starting rotation that includes another TJ survivor, Kendall Graveman, 29. Since their innings load likely will be light early on as arm strength builds, pressure will be on the bullpen to eat more innings than usual.