The Rockies’ history of signing free agents is...rocky at best (pun intended). Since Jeff Bridich took over as general manager in 2014, the team has signed eight free agents to contracts of $10 million or more:
- OF Gerardo Parra, 3 years/$27.5 million
- RHP Jason Motte, 2 years/$10 million
- IF/OF Ian Desmond, 5 years/$70 million
- LHP Mike Dunn, 3 years/$19 million
- RHP Wade Davis, 3 years/$52 million
- LHP Jake McGee, 3 years/$27 million
- RHP Bryan Shaw, 3 years/$27 million
- 1B Daniel Murphy, 2 years/$24 million
Of those eight free agents, only Parra and Murphy finished their full contracts before becoming free agents again. Desmond is currently in year four of his contract. Even then, Parra and Murphy spent the greater part of their final years with the team riding the bench when they were signed to be starters.
So it’s only natural that Rockies fans would be hesitant about adding another free agent. However, they also need starting pitching. Currently, their rotation consists of LHP Kyle Freeland, RHP Jon Gray, RHP Germán Márquez, and RHP Antonio Senzatela (who recently avoided arbitration by signing a one-year, $3 million deal). The fifth starter spot is open once again for the third straight year.
On the 40-man roster, the Rockies have RHP Ryan Castellani, RHP Peter Lambert, Antonio Santos, Helcris Olivarez, and José Mujica (No. 29 PuRP) as potential starters. Of those five, Lambert is recovering from Tommy John surgery; Santos and Mujica seem to be converting to potential relief roles; and Olivarez is 20-years-old and played for the Grand Junction Rockies last year. Castellani could be a decent back-end starter, but he struggled a bit in 2020.
So with the fifth starter spot still up for grabs, why not sign a free agent? I know, the Rockies track record isn’t great in that department, but another veteran starter might be just what they need. Even better, sign someone who pitched in the division and also has some experience pitching at “altitude.” I’m talking about RHP Taijuan Walker.
Walker was a Competitive Balance Round A pick in 2010 by the Seattle Mariners and made his debut in August 2013. He spent four years with the Mariners before he was traded alongside Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016 for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and Zac Curtis. The 6’4” righty pitched 28 games in 2017, posting a 3.49 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. He looked to build upon that success in 2018, but partially tore his UCL early in the season and underwent Tommy John surgery after making just three starts. He elected free agency in December 2019 and resigned with the Mariners in February 2020. Walker was then traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in August, where he made six starts — posting a 1.37 ERA in 26 1⁄3 innings.
So, why would Taijuan Walker be a good fit for the Rockies?
Namely, his relative success at altitude. In 32 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks (whose stadium sits 1,061 above sea level — second highest in MLB), Walker posted a 3.47 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. In his career pitching at Coors, Walker has made four starts, posting a 2.63 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The only NL West park that he has better stats from is Petco Park, where he has a 0.00 ERA and .500 WHIP in two starts (which shouldn’t be terribly surprising).
According to Baseball Savant, Walker has five pitches in his arsenal — a fastball, cutter, splitter, sinker, and curveball. In 2020, they averaged 93.2 MPH, 85.2 MPH, 89.0 MPH, 93.1 MPH, and 74.6 MPH respectively. The sinker especially could prove a valuable tool at Coors Field if he can harness it, but unfortunately it was hit the hardest by opponents in 2020 with a .391 batting average against.
Also, Walker is only 28-years-old. He will turn 29 in August. He is still recovering from Tommy John so his innings might be a bit limited in 2021, but so could everyone else’s given the state of things at the current moment. He made $2 million with the Mariners in 2020 and his previous high water mark was $5 million with the D-backs in 2017. It’s possible that the Rockies could get Walker for relatively cheap to solidify their rotation. They don’t need to sign him to a long-term deal right now necessarily, but he could be worth bringing in for a look.
★ ★ ★
Spring training is theoretically only about a month away, but with the state of things, who knows if a month will be an accurate time frame. However, right now, Commissioner Rob Manfred is telling teams to prepare normally.
Patrick Saunders writes that MLB owners are pushing to delay the season until May to allow for proper vaccinations, but the MLBPA is fighting for a full 162-game season with full salaries after players had to take pay cuts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
On the flip side of that, the state of Arizona is hoping for a delay to the start of the season like the owners. Arizona is currently one of the biggest COVID hotspots in the world, so by delaying the season, more fans could get vaccinated and therefore be able to enjoy the Cactus League. It will certainly be interesting to see how the divides between the players and the administrators plays out, but if it’s anything like last season, it could get ugly.
Let’s end on a fun note! In case you missed it, the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears played an NFL playoff game on Sunday that was broadcast on Nickelodeon. Yes, that Nickelodeon, complete with the slime cannons we all remember as kids:
Rob Manfred has been trying for years to make the game “more accessible” and there has been concern about losing the younger generation of fans. This is a great way to bring in that younger crowd and make baseball fun for kids! Kevin Henry outlines four of the best ways that the Rockies could use a Nickelodeon game to their advantage, and I think it would be fun. Perhaps at least a Twitter theme night?
★ ★ ★
Please keep in mind our Purple Row Community Guidelines when you’re commenting. Thanks!