The Phillies on Friday announced they've signed right-hander Taijuan Walker to a four-year deal. Terms of the contract were not announced, but a source told MLB.com it's for $72 million. To make room for Walker on the club’s 40-man roster, right-hander Tayler Scott was designated for assignment.
Walker, 30, will slot behind Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez in Philadelphia's rotation, while a combination of left-handers Bailey Falter and Cristopher Sánchez and top pitching prospects like righty Andrew Painter will vie for the No. 5 job.
Walker joins lefty Matt Strahm, who signed a two-year deal last week, as Philadelphia's second and third significant moves of the Winter Meetings as it tries to upgrade its National League championship roster with a flurry of moves that had everybody talking in the lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt last week.
The Phillies agreed to an 11-year, $300 million deal on Dec. 5 with shortstop Trea Turner, who turned down a $342 million offer from the Padres, a source told MLB.com.
But the Phillies checked off three boxes during the Winter Meetings: shortstop, rotation and bullpen, although they could find more relievers.
Walker went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts last season with the Mets. He struck out 132 and walked 45 in 157 1/3 innings. He threw 159 innings with New York in 2021, making the National League All-Star team.
“Ideally, you’re looking for someone who can throw a number of innings, give you 30 starts and throw 160-180 innings,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said on Dec. 5, when asked about his pursuit of starting pitching. “You want to have someone that can throw quite a few innings for you, because we’ve got the Big Three.”
Walker made only three starts in 2018 because of a right elbow injury, which ultimately required Tommy John surgery. But he made all 11 of his starts in the pandemic-shortened '20 season with the Mariners and Blue Jays before joining the Mets.
He has been mostly healthy since.
A potential concern is Walker’s second-half performance each of the past two seasons. He went 7-3 with a 2.66 ERA in 16 first-half starts in 2021, but went 0-8 with a 7.13 ERA after the All-Star break. He went 7-2 with 2.55 ERA in his 16 first-half starts this year, but posted a 4.80 ERA in 13 starts the rest of the way.
But then there is the effectiveness of Walker’s splitter, which he threw more frequently last season. Opponents batted .195 with a .267 slugging percentage against it.
Walker just seemed to fit for the Phillies, who were always shopping in that tier of pitchers below Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón. Dombrowski said that Philadelphia had no appetite to sign another player who received a qualifying offer, like Turner, who cost the team its second- and fifth-highest selections in the 2023 MLB Draft, plus $1 million from its international bonus pool. If the Phillies had signed a starting pitcher who received a qualifying offer like Rodón, Chris Bassitt or Nathan Eovaldi, they would have also forfeited their third- and sixth-highest remaining picks.
“I don’t think that we would have much of an appetite for that,” Dombrowski said.
Strahm went 4-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 50 appearances last season with the Red Sox. The average velocity on his four-seam fastball jumped from 93.1 mph in 2021 to 94.2 mph last season.
He effectively takes Brad Hand’s role in the bullpen that includes Seranthony Domínguez, Alvarado, Connor Brogdon and Andrew Bellatti.