This one didn’t carry the magnitude of the trade four years earlier. It didn’t dominate the baseball world’s headlines, or involve any All-Stars.
But it still shipped away a pitcher once considered to be a centerpiece of the Mariners’ great rebuild. Once again, Taijuan Walker is gone.
On Thursday the Mariners traded the right-handed starting pitcher to the Blue Jays for a player to be named or cash considerations. He leaves Seattle with a 2-2 record and 4.00 ERA in five starts this year. But his departure, which may be permanent this time, comes with: What was Walker’s legacy with the Mariners?
Remember, the 28-year-old was once hailed as one of the Mariners’ “Big Three” alongside James Paxton and Danny Hultzen. And there were moments when Walker looked as though he may have lived up to the projection.
Check out his last month of the 2014 season, which was filled with gems that helped produce a 2.61 ERA for the season. Or a stretch from June 3 to July 1 in 2015, when he delivered six quality starts and won five consecutive decisions.
These were the stretches scouts forecast when they were evaluating the kid from Yucaipa, California. This was the dominance that Mariners fans hoped to enjoy for years on end.
Unfortunately, there were stretches that spawned the opposite of said dominance, and it seemed Walker’s psyche was as much to blame as his mechanics.
The first time I met Taijuan was in the spring of 2016, when I introduced myself to him in Peoria, Arizona. Open as you could hope a ballplayer could be, he told me how he’d gotten into a mental funk and was constantly worried about being sent down to the minor leagues. Eventually, the Mariners’ then-mental-skills coach, Michael Gerson, introduced Walker to the process of visualization, which Taijuan embraced as he brimmed with optimism. A few months later, however, Walker’s head was in a vastly different place.
After roaring in his first month, when he accumulated a 1.44 ERA in 25 innings, Walker nose-dived in the summer. A 3.29 ERA in early June blew up to a 4.60 ERA five starts later, and that was after being sent down to Class AAA Tacoma. At that point Walker wasn’t open any more. He shut himself off from reporters as he faced his locker with his headphones on.
Understandable given his frustration, but certainly not where the organization thought — or at least hoped — he would be at that point. And that offseason, he and shortstop Ketel Marte were traded to Arizona for future Mariners All-Stars Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger.
That appeared to be the end of the Walker era in Seattle, where, at the very least, he helped bring in two quality players. But the chapters never felt as compelling as they could have been. Things picked up momentarily for Taijuan in Arizona, where posted a 3.49 ERA in 157 1/3 innings. But he missed almost all of the next two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, and signed with the Mariners for $2 million this past offseason.
Could this be the great comeback? Certainly didn’t look like it at first, as Walker gave up five earned runs in 3 1/3 innings before being yanked in his season debut. But his next start produced what may have been the finest game he ever pitched, as he gave up just one hit while allowing no runs in seven innings.
There were no fans at T-Mobile Park to salute him, but he did leave those watching at home with a fond memory.
Taijuan Walker was neither a bust nor a star in Seattle. He never a must-watch, but wasn’t a can’t-watch, either. He ended his second stint with the Mariners the same way he did his first: solid but not quite satisfying.