The Phillies committed $72 million over four years to right-hander Taijuan Walker because they believe he's in his prime and the best is yet to come.
"When you're trying to win a championship, you need quality starting pitching," Dave Dombrowski, the team's president of baseball operations, said at a news conference to officially herald Walker's signing on Friday.
"We like what we've seen so far (in Walker's career), and we do think there's another level."
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The Phillies' faith in Walker stems from his age (30), his stuff, his experience and the good health and durability he showed with the New York Mets over the last two seasons. Walker pitched 159 innings in 2021 and 157⅓ last season. That's the kind of contribution the Phillies are looking for behind Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suarez and in front of a young contributor like Bailey Falter, Cristopher Sanchez, Andrew Painter or Griff McGarry in the No. 5 spot.
Walker, picked 43rd overall by the Seattle Mariners in the 2010 draft, endured Tommy John surgery and a lengthy recovery in 2018.
He made 58 starts with the Mets the last two seasons and pitched to a 3.98 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.
The Phillies performed significant analytical and video homework on Walker and other mid-rotation free-agent pitchers. Pitching coach Caleb Cotham and assistant pitching coach Brian Kaplan were both high on Walker. In particular, they liked the growth he showed throwing his splitter last season. They believe the pitch can be sharpened even more and utilized more frequently in taking Walker to the next level.
"I was excited to hear their vision for me and what I can do better," Walker said.
Walker threw his splitter a career-high 27 percent of the time last season (his previous high was 18 percent in 2020) and used only his fastball more at 30 percent. Only two pitchers (Kevin Gausman and Alex Cobb) ended at-bats with a splitter more often than Walker, who did so 210 times last season. Opponents hit just .193 against the pitch.
"With the splitter came confidence," Walker's representative, Scott Boras, said.
Boras believes the improved splitter and a union with All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto will "give Tai a chance to step into the elite level of his career."
Walker always had a splitter in his pitch mix. It became a much stronger weapon after he changed his grip last May at the suggestion of Mets teammate Carlos (Cookie) Carrasco.
Once upon a time, Carrasco was the Phillies' top pitching prospect, signed for $300,000 as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2003. He was traded to Cleveland as part of the package for Cliff Lee in the summer of 2009. With Lee's help, the Phillies made it to the World Series that year. The Phils hope Carrasco continues to impact them positively the next four seasons with contributions from Walker.
"His grip felt more comfortable and created more consistent action, so I stuck with it," Walker said. "I started throwing it more and getting the result I was looking for.
"So, thank you, Cookie."
Walker faced the Phillies nine times the last two seasons, so he knows a little about the team and Philadelphia. Just to make sure he was making the right decision about his new baseball home, he sought counsel from Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Brad Miller, a former Seattle teammate. All recommended Philadelphia. Miller, who played with the Phillies in 2019 and 2021, raved about the clubhouse chemistry, which was a strength of the 2022 NL Championship club.
"I'm excited to be here," Walker said. "This team was in the World Series then went out and added Trea Turner. Those things are exciting to me. This is a great lineup. One through nine can do damage. To know that the offense will score four or five runs every time out there gives me more confidence to go out there and attack hitters."
Walker mentioned one other thing that excites him about being a Phillie.
"I don't have to face (Kyle) Schwarber anymore," he said.