The Blue Jays acquired right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker in a trade with the Mariners on Thursday. Toronto will be sending a player to be named or cash considerations back in the deal.
This is a major move for the Blue Jays, who were in desperate need of reliable starting pitching after Nate Pearson, Matt Shoemaker and Trent Thornton all landed on the IL recently. They’ve also struggled to get their healthy starters deep into games, making Walker a ideal addition to the group as they fight to stay in the American League playoff picture.
It also marks the first time that the Blue Jays have been true buyers at the Deadline since their most recent playoff runs in 2015 and '16. With further pitching and positional-depth needs remaining, this may not be the last we hear from them before Monday's 4 p.m. ET Trade Deadline.
“I would expect us to be extremely active,” said GM Ross Atkins, who described the calls as "non-stop" recently. “What the results end up being, we’ll see. We would like to continue to add to our pitching, and we would like to continue to complement our offence.”
Walker, 28, signed back with the Mariners in February after recovering from left knee surgery. In early 2018, Walker underwent Tommy John surgery, which limited him to a combined 14 innings across the 2018 and '19 seasons, but he’s healthy now and on a one-year, $2 million deal. He will be a free agent when the season ends.
Once one of the game’s top pitching prospects, Walker has found his footing again back in Seattle, where he spent the first four seasons of his MLB career. The right-hander owns a 4.00 ERA over five appearances this year, with two of those starts going a full seven innings and the most recent one pushing past 100 pitches. No Blue Jays starter has crossed either of those thresholds in 2020.
It’s clear that Walker is an arm that Atkins has had his eye on for a long time before this opportunity finally presented itself.
“From the day he was drafted, the power, the athleticism, the person, the character,” Atkins listed. “Unfortunately, he’s had some injuries that he’s obviously been able to overcome, so now he’s in a good position. He’s been throwing the ball exceptionally well. He’s got four pitches that he’s getting swing-and-miss with.”
On the mound, Walker brings a four-seam fastball that has averaged 93 mph this season, according to Statcast. He's traded some of his fastball reliance for his cutter, which he's using more in 2020.
“There’s some power on his fastball up to 95, a curveball and a slider or cutter,” Atkins described. “The shape of his curve, there’s true definition between his two breaking pitches as clear weapons that grade to be average or plus, then a feel for a changeup that helps him attack left-handed hitters. His arsenal is complete. He has the weapons to move through a lineup and he’s been doing that this year.”
The Blue Jays hope to have Walker on a private charter today and Atkins says that the intake process could be “immediate” given that the Mariners have been following the same COVID protocols. The club’s first priority is getting Walker and his family comfortable but, when that happens, it’s possible he could pitch as soon as Friday’s series opener against the Orioles in Baltimore, which is currently scheduled to be a bullpen day.