Taijuan Walker returned to the Mariners on the promise that he’d get a chance to be a starter and revitalize his reputation following 18 months of recovery from Tommy John surgery. The Mariners signed Walker with the goal of getting quality innings from a still-young player who could be a role model for their other young pitchers, an example to flex their player development muscle, and potentially a trade piece at the deadline. Today, as the Mariners traded Walker to the Toronto Blue Jays for a Player To Be Named Later, it seems as though all of those goals have been achieved to some degree. Ken Rosenthal broke the news:
The Blue Jays have acquired Taijuan Walker from the Mariners, source tells The Athletic.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) August 27, 2020
Walker was the talk of the trade deadline for the past couple weeks, as a low-cost rental whose stuff looked properly rejuvenated, with hints of even better command and mechanical consistency. It was all but assured Walker would be dealt, though there was some question as to whether it would come before or after his final scheduled start prior to Monday’s deadline, which would have been yesterday in San Diego. With the Mariners players striking for Tuesday’s game and the Padres agreeing to postpone, it appears the Blue Jays took the chance to acquire a well-rested Walker and likely slot him into their ramshackle rotation.
Toronto is a buyer created by the expanded 2020 playoff format, sitting at 15-14, 4.5 games back of the juggernauts atop their division (the Rays, obviously), 3.0 games behind Cleveland and the ChiSox, who are tied for the first Wild Card, and trailing the Yankees by 2.0 games for the second spot in the AL East. With the top two clubs in each division making it, the AL Central race is mostly three clubs (Twins included) jockeying for seeding, leaving the second Wild Card spot Toronto’s to lose. Their closest threats are Baltimore and Detroit, both looking sparky but still clearly flawed. Walker doesn’t make them a title contender, but if he locks them in to a playoff spot, helping energize their rebuild, and earning their ownership a larger slice of the sweet sweet nectar that is playoff TV revenue, it’s an understandable buy deal for the Bluebirds.
The return for Seattle is a mystery, though we have a few clues. Teams are not allowed to trade players who aren’t in their 60 player pools during the 2020 season, however several teams have already circumvented the spirit of this rule by making deals for PTBNLs, which allows the clubs to not officially deal a specific player, despite having outlined either one or a list of a few acceptable players to be selected from once rules allow. While the official deal is listed as “Walker for PTBNL or cash”, it’s encouraging to see Jerry Dipoto and other reporters describing it with an intent to be a player.
“It’s true…we have made a deal that sent him to Toronto…he could not have been better in the first half of an abbreviated season…wish him nothing but the best.”
— Jessamyn McIntyre (@JessamynMcIntyr) August 27, 2020
asked what the return would be for Walker, Dipoto could not identify the player, as he is not currently on the active roster.
— Jessamyn McIntyre (@JessamynMcIntyr) August 27, 2020
The Blue Jays have a decent farm system, and one of the better collections of young talent in the majors on the whole. However, many of their most intriguing players are on the extremes of their system, either already in MLB or in the 60 player pool, or having scarcely played above rookie ball or low-A. In any trade, Seattle might look to address some thinner areas of their prospect group, such as the left side of the infield, catching beyond Cal Raleigh, or even mid-level outfielders beyond their most imminent wave. If the M’s are interested in infielders, they could either take a patient, long-term path and deal for one of Toronto’s more heralded Latin shortstops. Orelvis Martinez, Rikelvin de Castro, and Miguel Hiraldo are all talented teenagers without almost any reps above a rookie level between them. Martinez is among Toronto’s top prospects, with a signing bonus higher than Walker’s pre-proration salary for 2020, so he is likely beyond Seattle’s potential return, but players like de Castro and Hiraldo are more plausible gets. All three are likely 4-5 years from MLB and will not have played for their club this year, making gauging how players are valued is even more difficult than ever.
If Seattle wants closer, less toolsy talent, INFs Kevin Vicuña or Otto Lopez could make sense. Vicuña is 22 with time in High-A, and a low-pop, low-K approach to go with versatile infield defense. Lopez has had better offensive numbers, with an allergy to striking out and good speed that pairs with similar defensive versatility across the whole diamond. If Seattle wants to look for pitchers instead, they could follow their recent mold in 2020 draftee RHP Nick Frasso or RHP Kendall Williams. Frasso is a lanky 6’5 21 year old who was Toronto’s 4th round pick this year, whose projectability and control fit a lot of what Seattle has targeted, with low-90s stuff that could jump with strength. Williams is even bigger, as a 6’6 20 year old with a whippy delivery and low-90s heat of his own already. Williams has the body and frame (and hair) of Logan Gilbert with some good ride on his fastball and a nice bit of bite to his slider and changeup as a prep, but he’s only thrown in rookie ball thus far as a pro.
We won’t know the PTBNL until after the season, likely November 1, and the range of return could be surprisingly intriguing or underwhelming. We are, as we’ve heard so many times, in unprecedented times. The corresponding roster moves are listed below, with RHP Zac Grotz up to fill the bullpen as Ljay Newsome slides into the rotation for his first career start, José Marmolejos up to lengthen the bench, and Carl Edwards Jr. and Taylor Guilbeau seeing their seasons functionally end. The M’s 40-man roster now sits at 37.