PEORIA, Ariz. — The last time Taijuan Walker had set foot in the Seattle Mariners’ spring training clubhouse was April 2016. But on Wednesday morning, as Mariners pitchers and catchers reported for their physicals, Walker was back in the place where he appeared in his first major league camp.
The Mariners announced Wednesday evening that Walker signed a one-year contract. Earlier in the day, multiple sources confirmed that Walker was coming back to the team that drafted, developed and gave him his first opportunity in the big leagues to fill out the final spot in Seattle’s starting rotation. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Walker will earn $2 million in salary with performance bonuses that could push it to $3 million.
Walker also provided his own confirmation before the announcement, tweeting out an old picture of himself in a Mariners uniform with the caption “Let’s gooo!!” and some emojis.
To make room on the 40-man roster for Walker, reliever Austin Adams (knee surgery) was placed on the 60-day disabled list.
“We’re excited to bring Taijuan back to Seattle,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “We believe our opportunity and his skill set are a great match and know that, if healthy, he can be an impact Major League starter for us.”
The projected starting rotation for opening day is now:
— Marco Gonzales, LHP
— Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
— Kendall Graveman, RHP
— Justus Sheffield, LHP
— Taijuan Walker, RHP
Beyond Gonzales taking the ball on opening day, the slotting of the rotation is still up in the air and could be determined by opponent and schedule.
There were some rumors that Walker might throw in front of Mariners front office executives in a private bullpen session on Wednesday. He did something similar on Monday with the Cubs. But it appears Seattle was comfortable signing Walker without the extra session, having scouted his two public bullpen sessions a few weeks ago.
After talking with the clubhouse attendants and hanging out in the clubhouse, Walker was seen talking with new Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth.
The reunion has been months in the making. Seattle first approached Walker about a possible return early in the offseason. They had a standing offer of a major league contract and a spot in the rotation. Walker wisely tested the free agent market, but ultimately returned to the team that drafted him with the 43rd overall pick of the 2010 draft out of Yucaipa High School in Yucaipa, California.
Once a prized prospect for the Mariners and part of the “Big 3” along with Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, Walker is now 27 years old and a year away from free agency.
He made his MLB debut on Aug. 30, 2013, and pitched in parts of four seasons with the Mariners, posting a 22-22 record with a 4.18 ERA in 62 starts and three relief appearances. He was traded along with infielder Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Nov. 23, 2016, for shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger and left-handed reliever Zac Curtis.
After a decent first season with Arizona in 2017, posting a 9-9 record with a 3.49 ERA in 28 starts, Walker dealt with injury issues. He made just three starts in 2018, pitching a total of 13 innings before elbow issues ended his season and eventually required Tommy John surgery. His return from the surgery last season was sidetracked by shoulder issues, specifically a capsule sprain in May. He pitched one inning in 2019.