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Taijuan Walker will look to finally achieve greatness in 2021

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After seasons of nearly living up to his potential, he could hit his stride in Queens.

New York Mets’ Taijuan Walker throwing in spring training game Photo by Alejandra Villa Loarca/Newsday RM via Getty Images

This offseason, the Mets made two major moves that bolstered a rotation that was less than stellar last season. One was acquiring Carlos Carrasco in the trade with Cleveland that also netted them Francisco Lindor. The other was signing free agent starter Taijuan Walker. Walker is coming off a pretty good season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, and he will look to help strengthen the back end of the Mets rotation in 2021.

Walker began his professional baseball career when he was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the supplemental first round of the 2010 MLB Draft, with the 43rd overall pick. He rose in both the organizational rankings and in the overall rankings, eventually becoming one of the top prospects in the Mariners’ system and in all of baseball. He looked to have the makings of a strong rotation piece for the Seattle when he was called up in August 2013.

His major league career started out strong, with a 3.60 ERA, a 2.25 FIP, and 0.5 fWAR over three starts at the end of the 2013 season. He had a 58 FIP-, putting him well above average across his three starts. In 2014, he split time between the majors and the minors, making a majority of his starts in Triple-A. But Walker still made eight appearances, including 5 starts, for the Mariners. He had a 2.61 ERA, a 3.68 FIP, and 0.3 fWAR with a 99 FIP-, worse than the year before but still slightly above average.

2015 was a little shakier for Walker. He spent the season as a member of the Mariners’ major league rotation. He started the season with two very rocky starts, giving up 9 runs in 3.1 innings and 5 runs in 4 innings respectively. He recovered, being helped by a five-win stretch in June and July, but he still ended the season with less than stellar stats, with a 4.56 ERA, a 4.07 FIP, and 1.8 fWAR with a 102 FIP-, a little below average but on par with the season before. 2016 was more of the same performance-wise for Walker, but he found himself battling injuries throughout the season. He hit the 15-day injured list twice and was optioned to Triple-A for a few starts. He ended 2016 with a 4.22 ERA, a 4.99 FIP, 0.7 fWAR, and a 120 FIP-, the worst of his career thus far.

During the offseason following the 2016 season Walker was traded, alongside Ketel Marte, to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Walker found himself with the chance to start fresh after a few disappointing seasons, and start fresh he did. He was a full-fledged member of the Diamondbacks rotation, and over 28 starts he had a 3.49 ERA, a 4.04 FIP, a 92 FIP-, and 2.5 fWAR. He had had his best season of his career thus far, and looked to finally be living up to some of the promise his ranking had given.

2018 ended up going awry for Walker. After making three starts and seeming to be continuing down the path of his improving play, he was put on the 10-day injured list with right forearm tightness on April 15. Three days later it was discovered that Walker had partially torn his UCL and would require Tommy John surgery. Walker’s season was over and his progress was ground to a halt.

In 2019 Walker made just one appearance, in the last game of the Diamondbacks’ season, and was unceremoniously non-tendered and became a free agent. In free agency Walker was signed by the Seattle Mariners, his former team, for a one-year, $2 million contract. He spent the first half of the 60-game season with them, making five starts with a 4.00 ERA, 4.97 FIP, a 113 FIP-, and 0.2 fWAR. Then the Mariners traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays, and he found another gear, with a 1.37 ERA, a more normal 4.14 FIP, 98 FIP-, and 0.4 fWAR. Seemingly Walker got a little lucky in Toronto, but he still looked great heading into free agency.

Walker is a solid back-end rotation starter with the potential to be a solid middle of the rotation starter. If he could find the version of himself he was in Arizona, that would be a tremendous addition to the Mets’ rotation. He didn’t seem to change that much between Seattle and Arizona, other than his home run numbers going down in Arizona. And Chase Field is a more hitter friendly stadium than T-Mobile Park, so that’s not what caused it. But hopefully going to another pitcher-friendly park like Citi Field, Walker can find a better version of himself, closer to the pitcher he was when he was with the Diamondbacks.

The Mets picked up Walker as a way to bolster the rotation, both this year and next, with the impending free agencies of Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman. Walker isn’t quite as good as either of them, or rather hasn’t shown that ability yet, but he puts the rotation in a good place, keeping the Mets from having to rely on rookie arms and push them past their potential. This is a spot that in years past would be filled by the likes of Jason Vargas and Rick Porcello, so this is already an upgrade of a move. If Walker can find who he seemed to be in Arizona it would be an astronomical addition to an already stellar Mets rotation. If not, he’s still a solid rotation piece that will help the Mets win more ballgames.