MLB free agent focus: Why Taijuan Walker could offer Cubs high-upside

Hot Stove season is here, and NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at free agents who could fit the Cubs’ needs — and budget. Next up is Blue Jays starting pitcher Taijuan Walker.

The Cubs didn’t want starting pitcher Taijuan Walker the last time he was available in free agency. Could it come down to whether Walker wants the Cubs this time around?

Walker, 28, worked out for the Cubs early in spring training this past February, coming off a two-season stretch where he only made four starts due to Tommy John surgery and his subsequent recovery. Two days after that workout, he signed a one-year deal with the Mariners.

But this time could be different.

Three Cubs starting pitchers — Tyler Chatwood, Jon Lester and José Quintana — are free agents, and only Lester seems likely to return, should any, as he and the club have expressed interest in a reunion. The Giants are rumored to be interested in him.

Lester’s return would give the Cubs five starting pitchers, along with Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay, but they’ll be in the market for starting pitching whether or not the veteran lefty is back next season. 

If a Lester-Cubs reunion doesn’t happen, Walker is a good fallback option to fill out the rotation who could come in with similar expectations. He’s a high-upside arm that might be available at a comfortable price tag for…

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