The Seattle Mariners are drawing strong interest on starting pitcher Taijuan Walker ahead of the MLB Trade Deadline, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today Sports.
The #Mariners are drawing strong interest on Taijuan Walker. He’ll throw bullpen session Fri at Wrigley Field in front of intrigued scouts.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 29, 2016
Walker is currently on the disabled list with a foot issue, but threw a pain-free simulated game on Wednesday and will follow that up with a bullpen session on Friday as Nightengale mentions. While the Mariners have not indicated whether they will be buying, selling or standing pat at the trade deadline, the lack of pitching available on the market has led to some unexpected players being available.
Given his youth and upside, Walker would certainly fetch a huge return if the Mariners decided to move him. At just 23 years old, Walker has a career 4.02 ERA (4.12 FIP) over 308.2 innings with 283 strikeouts and 80 walks according to FanGraphs.com.
Those numbers include flashes of dominance, as Walker was terrific in the second half last year and was having the best season of his career before the persistent foot injury landed him on the disabled list. Walker was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball just three years ago, and he still has the upside of a front-line pitcher.
As Walker is under team control through 2020 and won’t even be entering arbitration until 2018, he has a ton of surplus value. The Mariners would receive a terrific package of prospects if they were to deal Walker, particularly given the returns on recent trades for far less valuable starters like Shelby Miller and Drew Pomeranz.
Walker couldn’t be traded while he’s on the disabled list, and the recurring foot injury has to concern any potential suitor. Still, if Walker’s bullpen session goes well he could be activated before the Aug. 1 deadline before heading off on a rehab assignment.
The Mariners enter the trade deadline in a precarious position, and the potential return they would get has to be tempting. Still, now doesn’t seem like the right time for the team to move such a huge building block.
With three games to go until the deadline, the Mariners sit at 51-49, six games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West and 4.5 out of the Wild Card race. While the Mariners really struggled in June, Felix Hernandez was just activated off the disabled list and Walker could soon follow, potentially setting up a late run at the postseason.
Seattle does indeed face an uphill battle to the postseason, but this could be its best chance to make the playoffs for quite some time. The Mariners don’t have much of a farm system, although Jerry Dipoto has rebuilt it well in his first year, and may want to consider going for it in 2016.
Hernandez, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager is a strong enough core for the Mariners to be successful. However, the first three members of the group are making a lot of money and will lose effectiveness as they age, meaning Seattle could be in a tough spot in 2017 and beyond.
Trading Walker would instantly rebuild the farm system, but the Mariners need him around if they are going to compete while Hernandez, Cruz and Cano are still producing. Making a run at the 2016 postseason and then potentially trading Walker in the offseason or next deadline would make more sense if the Mariners choose to go in that direction.
If the Mariners do trade Walker at the 2016 deadline, the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers are Chicago Cubs would be among the suitors who could part with the required prospect capitol. The Texas Rangers would also be a good fit, but teams tend to shy away from making such huge deals within the division.
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