About three hours before he was to take to the mound at Petco Park for the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader vs. the Padres, the Mariners reached an agreement to send starting pitcher Taijuan Walker to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for a player to be named later.
General manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed the trade on his weekly radio show on ESPN 710 AM, and shortly after that the team confirmed it in a news release.
“You talk about maturing as a pitcher and a person, what he was able to do in our clubhouse, let alone what he was able to do on the field and how he’s grown there,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said in pregame video call from San Diego. “I’m happy for Taijuan to get this opportunity to continue a really good season. This is his free-agent year. I’d love to see him go out and dominate the rest of this season and come back and sign with us going forward.
“I think it’s a very good environment for him to continue to grow and produce. Very selfishly, I just love having him in the clubhouse and what he was able to bring there from a leadership standpoint.”
Walker was always the leading candidate to be moved before Monday’s trade deadline. Given his contract situation, the need for starting pitching and the Mariners’ rebuilding plan, all he needed to do was show teams he was healthy and pitching well and there would be a market for him.
Walker will be a free agent and isn’t making much in salary in 2020 after signing a one-year, $2 million contract in the offseason. The prorated salary dropped to $740,000 for the 60-game season, so a team acquiring Walker would only have to pay him just over $350,000 for that final month of his season, which would be a steal if he continues to pitch well.
After missing most of the last two seasons as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, he showed that he’s healthy in his five starts. His fastball velocity is right around 93 to 95 mph and his pitch count has been pushed up to normal territory with no residual effect in terms of soreness or fatigue.
He was effective in three of those five outings. The increased confidence, effectiveness and usage of his secondary pitches have been a plus. The maturity level and understanding of how to pitch is something Mariners fans didn’t see — and Walker admittedly didn’t possess — in his first stint in Seattle. The Mariners are so impressed with him that they’ll consider bringing him back next year as a free agent to be part of a six-man rotation.
The reason for the “player to be named later” in the trade is that the prospect the Mariners are acquiring isn’t part of Toronto’s 60-man player pool participating in workouts this season. It’s likely a lower-level minor leaguer with high upside who was not invited to the player pool.
Given the guidelines set in place for the unique 2020 season, any trade for named players must be players within a team’s player pool. Teams can circumvent that stipulation by trading for a player to be named later and finalizing it after the season. That player to be named later must be announced within six months of the trade.
Editor’s note: The Times declined to send reporter Ryan Divish to San Diego for this series because of COVID-19 safety concerns.