Should the Mariners trade RHP Taijuan Walker or try to extend him?
The MLB trade deadline is less than a week away, and taking the ball for the Mariners for Wednesday evening’s game against the San Diego Padres is perhaps Seattle’s best and most likely trade chip, right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker.
Walker, 28, is 2-2 with a 4.00 ERA, 25 strikeouts and eight walks in 25 innings this season. He’s been sharp of late as well, throwing six innings of one-run (unearned) ball in Texas on Aug. 12 and following that up on Aug. 19 with seven innings of three-run ball against the Dodgers.
According to multiple reports, including from MLB Network’s Jon Paul Morosi and ESPN’s Buster Olney, Walker is a top trade target for contending teams seeking starting pitching and is likely to be moved. It wouldn’t be the first time that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has traded Walker.
Walker was a top prospect in the Mariners’ system after being drafted in the first round out of high school in 2010 and made his MLB debut in 2013 at just 20 years old. After a few seasons in the rotation, Seattle traded Walker before the 2017 season to the Arizona Diamondbacks along with shortstop Ketel Marte for outfielder Mitch Haniger, shortstop Jean Segura and reliever Zac Curtis.
Walker pitched well in 2017, going 9-9 in 157 innings with a 3.49 ERA. But after just three starts in 2018, he needed Tommy John surgery on his elbow and missed the rest of the season. He would return in 2019, pitching just one inning. The Diamondbacks released him and he signed with the Mariners on a one-year deal. That short deal is likely part of the reason clubs would be interested as it would be a short-term rental.
But should the Mariners pull the trigger and trade one of their better starting pitchers? Brock Huard and Mike Salk shared their very different opinions on the matter in the latest Brock and Salk Podcast for 710 ESPN Seattle.
“Yeah, they should trade him,” Huard said.
Salk, meanwhile, was a little skittish to the idea because the return wouldn’t be much due to Walker only playing for a new team for one month of the regular season unless that team makes the playoffs.
“I’m not saying (that) because of the way he’s pitching or any of that but just because it’s going to be a buyer’s market,” Salk said.
This season’s trade deadline will likely look much different than previous years. There are no minor league games and only some prospects are at their team’s alternate training sites, meaning there’s less information for selling teams to use when trying to flip MLB players for young prospects.
Huard said that the Mariners need to take a leap of faith and gamble on whatever prospects they could receive in return amounting into quality players.
“You trade him and get a lottery ticket back, and God bless him and thank you for being good in the first half of the season and at least getting that,” Huard said. “And at the end of the year if you want to revisit that depending on how Logan Gilbert, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Marco (Gonzales) over the course of the next 30 games with your other players and your young developmental pieces as well, then you can revisit (signing) Taijuan. It’s not like someone’s going to lock him up.”
Salk not only doesn’t think the Mariners should try and trade Walker, he thinks the team would be smart to try and sign him to a contract extension as soon as they can.
“I honestly would try to re-sign him right now, and if you can get him on a reasonable deal (then do it),” he said. ” … Or keep him and try to sign him in the offseason. I don’t think you’re going to get back enough (in a trade) for it to matter.”
Salk also believes Walker may be inclined to sign a multi-year deal sooner rather than later because he doesn’t think that teams will be spending as much on free agents after a shortened season due to COVID-19.
“If you signed him to a two-year, $8 million deal – and I don’t know if he does that – but he’s only making $2 million this year,” Salk said. “If you can get him for two years and $8 million because there’s not going to be much money out there in the offseason.”
The Mariners have one of the top farm systems in baseball and have notable pitching prospects who have yet to make their MLB debuts such as 2018 first-round pick Gilbert, 2019 first-round pick George Kirby, 2020 first-round pick Emerson Hancock and 2019 draft picks Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell.
“I would like (Walker) to be a bridge into your future,” Salk said. “As you’re betting on these young guys and waiting to see which of them develops and knowing that some of them are going to get hurt, some of them aren’t going to be what you want them to be, I really like this version of Taijuan Walker.”
Another factor that could work in Seattle’s favor in terms of trying to re-sign Walker is that they took a chance on him this year as he set out to prove he was healthy.
“There may be some level of a loyalty factor to it,” Salk said. “You’ve rescued the guy this year. You went to his tryout, you rescued him, you gave him a spot. He feels comfortable here, clearly. He seems to be really happy in Seattle. I don’t know. I would reach out and see if you could get it done. I’ve been really happy with what he’s (done).”
Listen to the entire Brock and Salk Podcast at this link or in the player below.