Mariners Tidbit 39: Potential In-House Replacements For Taijuan Walker

Taijuan Walker feels like the clubhouse leader for most disappointing Mariners pitcher of 2015 (which puts him in the running with Dustin Ackley for most disappointing player on the 25-man roster).  Don’t you just get the sense that every fifth day, we’re in for a real clunker?  He’s been so shitty this year, he hasn’t missed a start and yet he STILL doesn’t qualify for the E.R.A. title because he doesn’t have enough innings pitched!  Not that he’d be anywhere NEAR that title, with his team-worst 7.33 dragging the collective unit down with his sub-mediocrity, but it’s insane that he doesn’t even qualify.

Taijuan Walker has started 9 games this year.  He’s gone 6 innings or more in two of those games.  6 innings is NOT asking a lot out of a starter!  And yet, here is 20% of our starting rotation who has more games with fewer than 5 innings pitched (4! out of 9!) than he does with 6 innings or more.  It’s pretty obvious that he’s not ready to be an everyday Major League starter, but unfortunately, there hasn’t been much of anything the Mariners could do about it.

Hisashi Iwakuma probably won’t be back before the All Star Break in July.  I’m wondering if he’ll even be back before the rosters expand in September.  In case you haven’t looked at a calendar yet, there’s a huge chunk of games between now and the Break (and an even huger chunk between now and September).  It’s too early to be thinking about a trade (as teams rarely give up on guys before the month of July, as they don’t want their fanbase to get wise to the fact that they’re nowhere near contention), but I don’t even want to speculate on trades anyway.  There’s a near-infinite number of possibilities for the Mariners outside the organization, but here’s the deal:  all of our potential prospects to trade away are already at the Major League level.  Nobody wants Dustin Ackley, so stop believing that the Mariners can just trade him for Cole Hamels straight up (or package him with one of our under-performing short stops, because it’s NOT ENOUGH, YOU BLOODY BOWSERS).  Probably the best prospect the Mariners could trade would be Taijuan Walker, and are you really that excited to trade him away just yet?

For as much as I may be ripping on the guy for his performance this year, I don’t think I want him pitching for another organization.  I just think he needs to work on his secondary pitches in the minors.  Given how he was injured for most of last year, it’s not like he’s had this huge bounty of innings pitched in the upper minors.  The way he’s getting slapped around – even with his plus fastball – you can tell he’s not hitting his spots and his offspeed stuff could be a lot sharper.

With Iwakuma many weeks away, and ditto any possible trade help, that leaves us with the here and now.  The last week of May, the entire month of June, and upwards of 4 weeks of the month of July depending on various variables.  A huge chunk of games where I don’t necessarily want to see Taijuan Walker starting every day.

The only viable options are sitting there in Tacoma.  At the top of the list, we’ve got Mike Montgomery, who has literally never made an appearance in the Major Leagues.  He’s got lots of mostly-mediocre numbers at the AAA level, leading him into this year where he’s made 8 starts and has a 3.83 E.R.A. across 47 innings with a respectable 40 strikeouts.  One knock against him is that he’s another left-hander, which would mean we’d have 4 lefties in the rotation if he replaced Walker.  Considering he’d probably have the worst stuff of the four, I don’t relish the prospects of his starts (especially the ones away from Safeco).

Next on the list, we’ve got Sam Gaviglio, who has made 9 starts and has a 5.63 E.R.A. (you can see the very-big drop-off, and it really only gets worse from here) across 46.1 innings with 41 strikeouts.  He’s been about as erratic as Walker (a decent game here, a grotesque game there, lots of short outings) and you have to imagine he doesn’t have any of the potential to turn things around as Walker would.  He’s a guy you’d bring up if you needed a warm body, but at the same time he’s not someone you’d promote before Montgomery.

Jordan Pries was starting to turn a corner before he went on the DL in early May.  I have no idea when he’d be ready to pitch again.  Stephen Landazuri was just called up from AA and had a horrific start last Friday, so he’s not ready.  Forrest Snow is a fringe starter who has bounced around from AA to AAA in recent seasons.  He’s been starting for Tacoma for the last three weeks and one wonders if his arm has been sufficiently built up.  Justin Germano is apparently a minor league lifer who’s been starting since the beginning of the month.  He’s coming off of a stinker of an outing – but was sort of okay before that – and he’s not on the 40-man, so that’s another strike against him.

As most of these guys aren’t on the 40-man, that makes a move even more difficult.  When you consider none of these guys are clear upgrades over Walker, you can see why this has been a difficult situation for the organization.  Hell, the Mariners just called up Austin Jackson from the DL and sent down Danny Farquhar to work on some things.  Meaning:  the Mariners would rather go with a temporary 6-man bullpen than DFA Willie Bloomquist.  Or Weeks, but shit man, they have to get rid of one of these guys if they’re going to keep Miller & Taylor on the roster!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Danny Hultzen is still plugging away in AA, trying to build his arm back up.  He’s made 3 starts and gone a total of 8 innings in those starts, so no, he’s not ready either, and he probably won’t be until 2016.

In conclusion, I don’t know if there’s any point in calling for Walker’s head, because I doubt he’s going anywhere, unless the train REALLY goes off the rails.  I’m talking another 3-4 starts where he gives up near-double digit runs.  At that point, I don’t think the team would have any choice but to see what Montgomery can do.  But, I think the Mariners want to wait this out as long as humanly possible to see if either Walker is able to turn things around, or if they can work out a trade for a back-end starter where they don’t have to give up too much.

Sounds exciting, right?  If you want my advice, just watch something else whenever it’s Walker’s turn in the rotation.  Either you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you look at the box score the next day, or you’ll be glad you missed another stinker.

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