The New York Mets desperately need to fill out their rotation. Taijuan Walker is one free agent pitcher that makes a lot of sense for them to acquire.
The New York Mets need rotation help as the offseason continues to drag on. They solved part of that need by trading for Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor on Thursday, but with Noah Syndergaard’s health being a question mark, they could use one more starting pitcher that can fill out the back end of their rotation.
As it currently stands, the Mets are looking at a rotation of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, new acquisition Carlos Carrasco, David Peterson, and either Seth Lugo or Steven Matz. Noah Syndergaard, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, will return during the middle of the season, but it is not clear how effective he is going to be once he returns to the mound.
The issue is that both Lugo and Matz are not really suited for the rotation. Lugo is much more effective in the bullpen, where he can serve in a multitude of functions. Over the past couple of years with the Mets, Lugo has started, pitched out of the bullpen, closed games, served as a set-up man, and has also been utilized in long relief situations. That type of versatility is not common with many pitchers, so pigeonholing him as a starter is not in the team’s best interests.
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Matz, on the other hand, has run out of chances. He has continued to regress over the past couple of seasons and shows little promise that he could turn it around. At this point, he is better suited for the bullpen.
Because Lugo and Matz are better suited for the bullpen, that leaves the Mets with one spot in the backend of their rotation open. Considering Steve Cohen’s desire to build up the farm system and his willingness to spend money, it seems more prudent for the Mets to use free agency to fill that need without breaking the bank.
For the back end of the rotation, the Mets should seek a low-risk, average- to high-upside pitcher who would be relatively inexpensive but can potentially offer great value.
One pitcher who fits this description is Taijuan Walker, who is coming off of a decent 2020 with a 4-3 record and a 2.70 ERA. Walker’s strength has always been to get right-handed hitters out. In 2020, Walker held righties to a .178/.252/.263 slash line. One of the reasons for his strong numbers was the increasing effectiveness of his cutter. He had an effective cutter that ranked 13th in whiff percentage among all major league pitchers.
The key for Walker’s success, though, will be how to handle left-handed batters, which he has struggled with during his career. Lefties hold a .265/.351/.518 slash line against him, and that is a major reason why Walker, despite his incredible potential, has never been able to fully live up to the lofty expectations set for him.
The Mets are off to a good start this offseason, addressing their needs at catcher and acquiring a star player along with an above-average starter. For the Mets offseason to be completely successful though, they still need a center fielder, one more starting pitcher, and more bullpen help.
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Signing Walker may not be the eye-popping move that will start a social media frenzy, but it is the type of move that would deepen their rotation and set them up with the depth needed to get through a grueling 162-game season.