Walker expresses interest in long-term deal

July 5th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- As the Mets look to build something sustainable for 2023 and beyond, count  among those who hope to be a part of it.

Walker, 29, can become a free agent after this season. He has a $6 million player option for 2023 that can rise as high as $8.5 million with performance incentives that are within his reach. But if Walker continues pitching the way he has been -- his quality start on Monday improved him to 7-2 with a 2.86 ERA on the season -- then declining his option and pursuing a multi-year contract will be his obvious move.

While Walker hasn’t talked to Mets officials about his desire to stick around long-term and doesn’t expect any meaningful conversations to occur until November, his preference is to remain in New York on a multi-year contract.

“I’ve been on short-term deals my last two free agencies,” said Walker, who pitched in Seattle, Arizona and Toronto before coming to New York before the 2021 season. “It would be nice to do a longer-term deal and kind of just be set up in one place and know that I’m going to be here for a couple years. Maybe have my family settle in a little bit. That would be nice.”

To date, Mets officials have shown little interest in discussing extensions with Walker or any of their other impending free agents. They did not talk seriously about multi-year deals with outfielder Brandon Nimmo, closer Edwin Díaz or starter Chris Bassitt when those three negotiated arbitration contracts last offseason. Nor did they pursue an extension with Jacob deGrom, who has stated his intention to opt out of his contract after this season.

In all such matters, owner Steve Cohen and general manager Billy Eppler have generally expressed a desire to wait until after the season. (Eppler declined comment when asked on Tuesday.)

The Mets’ rotation, however, is a matter of particular urgency. deGrom, Bassitt, Walker and Carlos Carrasco can all become free agents in November (though the team can retain Carrasco on a $14 million team option). Despite the emergence of younger pitchers such as David Peterson and Tylor Megill, the Mets will need to sign or re-sign multiple starting pitchers this winter.

Walker understands that, just as he knows deGrom will be the club’s top priority. He also believes he can help in a similar role to the one he’s in this year, serving as a mid-rotation starter who has recently -- in the absences of deGrom and Max Scherzer -- pitched more like an ace. Walker credits pitching coach Jeremy Hefner, along with analytics experts David Lang and Jack Bredeson, for “helping me turn around my career.”

In practical terms, that’s mostly meant an increased reliance on his splitter, though Walker has also placed more recent emphasis on his slider as another option to generate swings and misses. Over his first nine starts, Walker struck out only 4.82 batters per nine innings. In his last five since, he’s increased that rate to 10.13 strikeouts per nine, hinting at genuine improvement that can help him stave off future slumps. Helping matters is the fact that he’s been consistently healthy for the first time in half a decade.

In those ways, a commitment to Walker would make sense for the Mets. For Walker, the fit is also a snug one -- not only because of his desire to be settled, but because of the extent to which he’s enjoyed his time in the city.

“I know New York can be a tough place to play and pitch, and I kind of saw that a little bit last year with everything going on,” Walker said. “But the cool thing is how passionate the fans are. I respect it. Obviously, they want you to do well, but all you’ve got to do is hold yourself accountable.”

As for his future, Walker said, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it.”

“It’s hard not to,” he added. “But I’m excited. I’m excited for what the future holds, and I’m also excited to continue to pitch good and try to make the playoffs. I want to pitch in the playoffs to show what I can do. But I’ve had a really great time here with the Mets.”