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Seattle Mariners

Column: Mariners should part with Walker and Paxton now before it’s too late

Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (44) reacts after allowing a home-run to Houston Astros left fielder Colby Rasmus (28) in the fourth inning of an MLB baseball game between the Houston Astros and the Seattle Mariners during a MLB baseball game at Minute Maid Park, Tuesday, July 5, 2016, in Houston. ( Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire )
(Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

The starting pitching in Seattle has been drawing interest from around baseball. According to FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, teams have come calling about veteran Wade Miley and two of their younger starters in Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.

Friday, however, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports spoke with Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto, who didn’t dispel any rumors surrounding the team parting with Miley but he made sure that everyone should know that the team will not be parting with Walker or, according to SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo, Paxton.

Both the Texas Rangers and the Chicago Cubs, among others, have called about the two younger players. In such a weak starting pitching market and with so many contenders desperate for another starter, it seems crazy for Dipoto to want to hold onto both Paxton and Walker. They could command a nice return in the current market.

Dipoto could part with Walker and/or Paxton now — and he should.

Yes, they are both under team control through 2021 and 2020, respectively, which is a plus to any team. Paxton will be arbitration-eligible after this season while Walker has another year before he is eligible for arbitration. These salary and team control numbers appear great to Dipoto, and to just about any general manager looking for more than a rental starter for the rest of the 2016 season.

Both players have shown flashes of how good they can be, and they made their debuts with Seattle within a week of one another. Walker, a right-hander who had just turned 21, debuted on August 30, 2013, going 3-0 in three starts with a 3.66 ERA. The lefty Paxton, who is four years older than Walker, debuted a week later on September 7, 2013. He went 3-0 in four starts that season, posting a stellar 1.50 ERA.

The Mariners appeared to be set going into the next few years with “King” Felix Hernandez at the helm of the pitching staff and these new rookies who had put up such good numbers in their debut starts in 2013. However, that isn’t exactly what happened in Seattle.

May 23 2015: Seattle Mariners Starting pitcher James Paxton (65) [8632] pitches against Toronto Blue Jays in first inning at Rogers Centre

(Peter Llewellyn/Icon Sportswire)

Both pitchers have been derailed for the most part every season since 2013 both by injuries and ineffectiveness, which despite their years left under team control, is why the Mariners should trade them while they are most valuable. That time appears to be right now, with most teams looking for a starter and there are no starters to be found.

Walker, whose age — he turns 24 on August 13 — may make it appear that he’s got plenty of time to turn things around, looks very different once you take a closer look. He’s proven to be very injury-prone, pitching just one full season in the past three. He made 29 starts in 2015 but posted an ERA of 4.56 on the year. So far in 2016, he’s missed time with a neck injury in May and has been out since July 5 with a lingering foot injury, holding him to 16 starts.  

Walker has natural velocity on his mid-90s fastball but has never really developed a major league-caliber changeup. His cutter and splitter don’t offer a big difference in speed from his fastball, causing him to be prone to inevitably leaving the ball up in the zone and allowing far too many home runs. He has a mid-70s curveball that is alarmingly ineffective against right-handers. In 2015, right-handed hitters posted .278 average against it and a .333 ISO.

Walker can be seen as a liability both because of his extensive injury history and his propensity to allow home runs. Similarly, Paxton — who didn’t even make the Opening Day roster out of spring training this year simply due to poor performance — has had more than his fair share of injuries. In 2014, he missed time with a lat injury and later in the season suffered from tricep and shoulder soreness.

In 2015, Paxton suffered from multiple finger injuries, most notably a strained left-middle finger that left him unable to throw his curveball, which happened to be his only plus secondary pitch. He returned in 2016 with a new changeup, but it still wasn’t effective enough to get him on the 25-man roster.

Paxton has since gotten a chance to start due to an uncharacteristic injury to Hernandez. In 11 starts this season Paxton has posted a 4.27 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP, which isn’t exactly ideal. Overall, from 2014-16, Paxton has made 46 starts in Triple-A and just 36 at the big league level, due to either injury or simple ineffectiveness.

Do these two pitchers currently have team-friendly contracts? Absolutely. However, there’s a strong chance that neither will end up being the superstar that the Mariners had been hoping for, which is exactly why they should trade them now, while teams are still calling.

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