PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Taijuan Walker wanted to keep uniform No. 99, so he figured 29 of the 30 major league teams were options.
“I think there’s only one team that I could go to where I couldn’t be 99 and that was the Yankees,” he said, a reference to AL MVP Aaron Judge’s jersey number. “I think every other team was available. I was tired of switching my number.”
The 30-year-old right-hander finalized a $72 million, four-year contract with the National League champion Phillies on Friday and will become the fourth Philadelphia player to wear No. 99 after Mitch Williams (1993), Turk Wendell (2001) and So Taguchi (2008).
Walker wore No. 44 growing up and got it with Seattle in 2016. Traded to Arizona, where Paul Goldschmidt had the number, he switched to No. 99. Then he was dealt to Toronto, where Hyun Ryu was 99, and Walker switched to 00. He signed as a free agent with New York, where mascot Mr. Met had 00, so Walker went back to 99 for the past two seasons.
Walker, who gets an $18 million salary in each of the next four years. went 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA in 29 starts this season for the Mets, one of Philadelphia’s biggest NL East rivals. He slots into a rotation that includes Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suárez,
“Very talented individual, goes out there every five days with quality stuff,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “We really love his split finger that he threw a lot more last year and will continue to do so.”
Walker already spoke with manager Rob Thomson, pitching coach Caleb Cotham and director of pitching development Brian Kaplan. Walker increased the use of a splitter from 14% to 27% last season and added a cutter, though just 5%.
He switched this year to the splitter grip used by teammate Carlos Carrasco.
“With the Mets, I was able to learn how to throw my splitter more and how to use it,” Walker said. “I think coming over here, already speaking with Caleb, I think that we can tweak my cutter a little bit and my slider, but also just up the use of my splitter.”
Walker is looking forward to pitching in front of fans at Citizens Bank Park.
“I actually talked to Ryan Howard a couple of days ago and he was telling me playing in the playoffs here in Philly it’s the loudest he’s ever heard a stadium,” Walker said. “So for me, that’s exciting, to have a fanbase who’s so passionate and cares so much about the team and who shows up every day. Every time we came to play when I was with the Mets, the Phillies fans were here, they were out, they were loud.”
Walker was selected by Seattle with the No. 43 pick in the 2010 amateur draft. He made his big league debut with the Mariners in 2013.
Walker signed with New York as a free agent in February 2021. He turned down a $7.5 million player option last month in favor of a $3 million buyout, making his deal worth $17 million over two seasons.
The 6-foot-4 Walker made the All-Star team for the first time in 2021, putting together a fast start before fading to 7-11 with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games, 29 starts.
To make room for Walker on the 40-man roster, right-hander Tayler Scott was designated for assignment.