The Mets have opted against issuing a $19.65MM qualifying offer to right-hander Taijuan Walker, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Walker, who made the easy decision to decline a $7.5MM player option earlier this week, will now reach free agency with no restrictions and will not be subject to draft-pick compensation. Unsurprisingly, Heyman adds that the Mets plan to make a QO to all three of Jacob deGrom, Brandon Nimmo and Chris Bassitt.
Walker, who turned 30 in August, was a borderline candidate and might well have rejected his offer upon receiving one, though the Mets won’t find out and will instead accept the possibility of losing him for no compensation. As a luxury tax payor, they’ll “only” receive a pick between the fourth and fifth round for any free agent who rejects a qualifying offer, and apparently the notion of potentially tying up $19.65MM in salary to Walker right out of the offseason gate wasn’t worth that fairly modest bit of compensation for GM Billy Eppler and his staff.
It’s great news for Walker, who’ll now head into free agency search of a multi-year deal that could span three or perhaps even four years in length. The former top prospect has shaken off many of the injury concerns that stemmed from Tommy John surgery and shoulder surgery earlier in his career, making 69 of roughly 76 possible starts across the past three seasons. That includes 29 starts and more than 155 innings in each of the past two campaigns.
Since 2020, Walker has pitched to a 3.80 ERA with a 21.5% strikeout rate, 7.8% walk rate and a 43.2% ground-ball rate. He’s averaged just about 5 1/3 innings per outing in that time, though that would seem to be more in an effort to monitor his workload than due to strong concerns about turning a lineup over for the third time. Since 2020, Walker has yielded a .232/.303/.391 batting line when facing opponents for the third time on a given day. While his numbers the first and second time through the order are better, it’s not the type of cringeworthy third-time split you’ll see with so many starting pitchers.
Walker’s fastball sat 93.8 mph in 2022, so he doesn’t have premium velocity. He doesn’t miss bats or generate grounders at an especially high level but also limits walks at a solid clip. He may not stand out in any one way, but he increasingly looks like a durable mid-rotation arm who could deepen nearly any starting staff in the Majors.