By Ken Rosenthal, Matt Gelb and Will Sammon
The Philadelphia Phillies and free-agent pitcher Taijuan Walker have agreed to a four-year, $72 million contract, major-league sources tell The Athletic. Here’s what you need to know:
- Walker is ranked No. 12 overall on The Athletic’s Keith Law’s list of top 50 free agents.
- The 30-year-old right-hander went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA across 157.1 IP last season.
- He earned his first career All-Star nod in 2021, his first season with the Mets.
- In addition to Walker, the Phillies are closing in on a deal with free-agent left-handed reliever Matt Strahm, major-league sources tell The Athletic.
In 2022, Walker showed why he should pursue a multiyear contract, even as more of a mid-tier free-agent option.
Walker has remade himself as a strike-thrower with an out pitch in his splitter, a pitch he barely used prior to Tommy John surgery. Hitters have an extremely hard time elevating the ball against him; the average launch angle on the pitch when hitters do make contact is -1 degree. Of balls hit in play off Walker’s splitter, 55 percent were at 0 degrees or less, meaning parallel to or towards the ground, and only six percent were hit in the 26 to 30 degree launch angle range where balls hit 95 mph or harder are considered Barrels by Statcast, which means they’re likely to be extra-base hits.
Law: The Phillies address another big question by adding Taijuan Walker
Why the Phillies made this move
Once the Phillies agreed to a $300 million deal for Trea Turner, their next target was a reliable pitcher for the middle of their rotation. They were reluctant to sign a pitcher who was attached to a qualifying offer because they will surrender draft picks to sign Turner. So they paid a premium for one of the best starters who didn’t cost them picks. An $18 million annual salary for a mid-rotation pitcher is steep, but if it was not clear already, the Phillies will win no awards for efficiency. They don’t care about that.
They needed to replace a significant amount of rotation innings lost from the departures of Kyle Gibson, Zach Eflin and Noah Syndergaard. Walker, 30, had two consecutive healthy seasons with the Mets. He used his splitter more in 2022 than he ever had before, and that is a plus pitch the Phillies could ask him to throw more in 2023. Opponents hit .195 with a .267 slugging percentage against the splitter.
The Phillies last season adopted a straightforward philosophy with their pitchers: Throw their best pitches more. So, it is reasonable to believe the Phillies see even more upside in Walker with some tweaks. Even if he’s the pitcher he was in 2022 — a 111 ERA+ — he’d provide a stable force in the middle of the rotation. – Gelb
What Philadelphia is getting with Walker
After settling for short-term deals during his previous shots at free agency, Walker was eyeing a longer-term pact. With the Mets, he was a consistent, ground-ball pitcher and dependable piece of their rotation. In two years with the Mets, Walker made an All-Star appearance in 2021, posted better numbers in 2022 and had a combined 3.98 ERA/4.11 FIP with a 1.18 WHIP in 316 1/3 innings across 59 games, including 58 starts. Using more of a split-finger and relying less on his four-seam fastball, Walker produced arguably his best season with a 3.49 ERA, 3.65 FIP and 2.5 fWAR in 157 1/3 innings. With Walker, the floor is sturdy; you pretty much know what you’re getting, and it’s a more than serviceable option for the Phillies’ rotation. – Sammon
Phillies solidify rotation with Taijuan Walker and put their stamp on Winter Meetings
(Photo: Brad Penner / USA Today)