The Astros need rotation depth, and Taijuan Walker could be a fit.
The Astros have addressed their catching and relief pitching needs so far this offseason, adding Dustin Garneau, Martin Maldonado and Joe Smith. But they have yet to add any candidates for the starting rotation. There’s still a hole to fill there, and Taijuan Walker could potentially be a fit.
The club has extremely limited financial room to add players, as they’re already projected to be over the luxury tax threshold. In light of that, the fact that they eschewed the big ticket free agents is unsurprising, especially given this front office’s history.
But they still have to find a way to replace the innings of Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley, and they do have options on hand in Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock, the returning Lance McCullers, Jr., and a cast of players with little major league success to their names. But adding a veteran to the mix would be a nice boost, and this is where Walker comes in.
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For his career, the right-handed Walker is 31-31 with a 3.95 ERA in 94 starts and three relief appearances. He’s a former first-round pick and is still just 27 years old. He’s a free agent thanks to the fact that he was non-tendered after throwing only 14 total innings the past two years thanks to the Tommy John surgery he underwent in April 2018.
His last full season in 2017 saw him post a 3.49 ERA in 28 starts. He relies primarily on a four-seam fastball that averages between 93 and 94 mph, as well as a cutter, split finger and curveball. He’s thrown a sinker in the past as well, though the Astros would probably have him mothball that one.
As with any player coming off a lost season, there’s no guarantees, and whether he’s worth taking a chance on may depend on the medicals. The fact that he will be nearly two years removed from his surgery on opening day is a good sign, though. If all else checks out, he could be ready to contribute right away.
The cash-strapped Astros could probably get him on a one-year deal with a bunch of incentives involved. If he’s healthy and effective, the club gets a bargain and Walker gets to reenter free agency next offseason primed for a multiyear deal. If he doesn’t work out, the franchise doesn’t lose much of anything.
The Astros’ in-house options could work just fine, but it’s better to go into Spring Training with one or two veterans in the mix as well. Walker has some serious upside if he’s healthy, so the club would do well to take a flier on him.