TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays dealt with matters far more significant than baseball on Thursday, but they also tended to some business in acquiring right-hander Taijuan Walker from the Seattle Mariners for a player to be named.
That the 28-year-old happened to be among the players who drove the Mariners’ decision to not play their game Wednesday versus the San Diego Padres “made me feel good about the person, about the addition and we already did feel very good,” said general manager Ross Atkins.
“We’re excited about his influence, how passionate he is about about the Black Lives Matter movement. … I know that he will be embraced in our clubhouse. I know our players will be very glad to have his perspective and his leadership and his thoughts on the matter.”
The Blue Jays, shifting roles from seller last year to buyer now while in current possession of a playoff spot, will also be glad to have his presence in a rotation down three starters after Matt Shoemaker (lat strain), Nate Pearson (flexor strain) and Trent Thornton (elbow inflammation) each hit the injured list in the past eight days.
Walker, no stranger to injuries himself, is off to a strong start through five starts, posting a 1.074 WHIP over 27 innings with eight walks versus 25 strikeouts. He’s twice gone seven innings in a start, something no Blue Jays starter has done even once so far, and features the type of repertoire that should allow him to do it more often, too.
“There’s some power to his fastball, up to 95 (m.p.h.), a curveball and a slider or cutter, but there’s true definition between two breaking pitches as clear weapons that grade to be average or plus, and then a feel for a changeup that helps him attack left-handed hitters. His arsenal is complete,” said Atkins. “He has the weapons to move through a lineup and he’s been doing that this year.”
The Blue Jays had a bullpen game Wednesday and were scheduled to have another Friday, but they could start Hyun-Jin Ryu now after the protest postponement of Thursday’s series finale against the Boston Red Sox.
Walker’s addition resolves one of the holes in the rotation and Atkins said he “would like to continue to add to our pitching and we’d like to continue to complement our offence.”
“As I mentioned on the last call that we were on, I think we’ll be more focused on the run-prevention side,” he added. “So that could be some type of defensive complement that also provides offence, obviously. But pitching and run prevention will be our focus moving forward.”
Walker is a free agent at season’s end and that the Blue Jays would grab a rental suggests the cost wasn’t especially steep. The return for the Mariners isn’t on the club’s current 60-man pool, the only players eligible to be traded this year, which is why it’s a player to be named later, with a resolution to come after the season.
The deal started coming together shortly before Wednesday night’s game, and Atkins said, the acquisition cost relative to a normal season “actually feels about like the same price, maybe there is some smaller piece to that but it’s factored in both ways.”
“It’s been interesting to see that the activity, the discussions, the dialogue this deadline, it really does feel like any other deadline,” he added. “The prices, I would rather assess that after all of the deals are done. But it felt like a typical deadline price, for the most part.”