Entering the 2022 season, the New York Mets were considered to have one of the best and deepest rotations in the league. Despite the various injuries that the rotation has suffered thus far, the team has managed to get superb starting pitching from their aces and from their mid-tier starters.
However, one of their starting pitchers, Taijuan Walker, stands out from all of them. Walker is in his second season with the Mets. To describe his first year with the Mets as a roller coaster would be an understatement. Walker was brilliant in the first half of the 2021 season, which earned him his first All-Star appearance. However, Walker cratered in the second half of the season, pitching to a 7.63 ERA over his last 13 starts.
So far in 2022, Walker’s season has started similarly: at the All-Star break, he is pitching like an ace, despite his place in the middle to back end of the rotation. He has compiled a 2.55 ERA and a 1.091 WHIP through the All-Star break.
Walker’s value to the team has been immense this season, and it raises the question of whether he should be brought back. He is in the final year of a two-year, $20 million deal with a player option for a third year that he will most likely decline. Walker has stated on occasion that he would like to have extension talks with the Mets, expressing a desire to remain in one city for several years after being something of a journeyman in his career so far.
The Mets do have interest in bringing Taijuan Walker back, but for how much?
Right now, it’s still a little early to determine what Walker’s contract should be. Considering how poorly he pitched in the second half of last season, the Mets will surely want to see if Walker can sustain his excellent performance in the second half of the season because that would indicate how much effort they will make in bringing him back and how much they will offer him.
Part of Walker’s success so far this year is because of the increased usage of his splitter, which has been his most effective pitch in 2022. After only throwing it 14.2% of the time in 2021, Walker has utilized it 29.6% of the time in 2022, and nearly 60% of his strikeouts have come on the splitter. This suggests that it is possible Walker has made the necessary adjustments to prevent another extended struggle.
What is also working in Walker’s favor is that the Mets will have a clear need for starting pitching come November. Jacob deGrom, Walker, Chris Bassitt, and Carlos Carrasco will all be free agents. Despite Tylor Megill and David Peterson pitching better, the Mets are, at a minimum, going to need to sign at least two starting pitchers from this quartet or find replacements on the open market. As a result, Walker will be able to use that as leverage in any contract talks with the Mets.
Walker has stated that he loves New York, and he credits the Mets staff for helping him improve as a pitcher. Despite Walker’s sentimentality, it is clear that he is thinking about the future and what it may mean for his family. It stands to reason, then, that he will seek a contract longer than the one he initially signed with the Mets.
Walker is 29 and will be 30 in August. This is not a case of a pitcher approaching the end of his prime. He’s right in the middle of it. If I were general manager Billy Eppler, assuming that Walker doesn’t drop off a cliff like he did in 2021, I would start with offering Walker a three- or four-year contract with an opt out after two years. This is a deal that works for both clubs: Walker gets long-term security and an opportunity to make more money if he continues to pitch well, and the Mets will be able to lock up a reliable starting pitcher for his prime at a reasonable price.