Posted by Mack Ade at 8:00 AM
Resigning Neil Walker was the textbook case of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation.
The native Pittsburgh born Pine Richard H.S. (Gibsonia) graduate started out as a catcher (2004) in the Pirates organization and remained a Pira6te through the 2015 season.
The Pirates traded Walker to the Mets (so much for home town loyalty) in December 2015. He signed a one-year $10.55mil deal with the Mets for the 2016 season, where he had a banner year (412-AB, 23-HR, .282) until his back went out. He became a free agent after 2016, but the Mets moved in and Walker agreed to their qualifying offer of $17.2mil for the 2017 season.
So now we have three starting infielders (David Wright, Lucas Duda) with bad backs costing the team $39.45mil to play a little baseball this season.
Reese Kaplan, of Mack’s Mets, said –
I screamed from every rooftop to let this guy walk because he would be that rare player who would indeed accept the QO when it was made. After all, he was coming off back surgery and it was unlikely any other club would want to offer him a long term deal until they saw he was once again healthy enough to handle the workload of a middle-of-the-order hitter. Sure enough, the Mets offered and Walker bit, and now the Mets are licking their $17.2 million wound.
Don’t get me wrong. The logic made perfect sense. You did not know what was going to happen with Yoenis Cespedes. Just like the Jay Bruce option being picked up, it was a hedge against Yo seeking greener pastures elsewhere. The difference is that they had plenty of depth at the 2nd base position in Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores, T.J. Rivera and even Gavin Cecchini.
What they’ve done by with that offer is hampered many other moves as they do not have the payroll flexibility to acquire the quality bullpen arms they need. Furthermore, this whole scenario is going to repeat itself at the end of 2017 when Walker once again achieves free agent status.
It’s possible that they may want to talk to Walker about a long term deal to lock him up for say 3 years for his ages 32-35 seasons but I can’t see them going any longer than that. Given what Daniel Murphy received from the Washington Nationals and using that as a yardstick, if you were Neil Walker would you sign for a cut in pay of nearly $5 million per year for the security of a three year deal? If he has another 20+ HR season I think he’d likely want to test the waters and this time I hope the Mets would stay out of the QO game. He may come back to them and perhaps he’s the 3B solution of the future if David Wright is once again unable to play.
Another way to go is to keep watching how guys like Rivera, Cecchini and Amed Rosario (with Asdrubal Cabrera shifting to 2B) progress throughout the year and see if perhaps you can turn this expensive mistake into something by peddling him at the trade deadline to another club to get prospects in return? Isn’t that just as good as extending the QO in the hopes of getting a draft pick without the risk of getting stuck with a $17.2 million salary AND getting another club to eat 50% of it? Of course, it all depends where the Mets find themselves in the standings come mid-season.
Opinion – Frankly, I scratched my head when this deal was done. It’s not like he’s 25 years old and the picture of good health.
I’m sure that Sandy Alderson did not plan on spending $52.7mil this upcoming season on Walker, Jay Bruce, and Yoenes Cespedes. Believe me, the Bruce offer was a hedge because there was a good chance Cespedes wasn’t coming back. The Walker signing? $17.2mil for a 31-year old with a bad back? I don’t know.
And it’s not like there is a second base prospect in the wings. Dilson Herrera is gone. And we can assume that Amed Rosario will play short. Frankly, our hope now lies with the conversion of Gavin Cecchini into as good as a defensive second baseman as Murphy was (is). We know Cecchini can hit minor league ball and he has impressed so far this pre-season, but he's a long way away fro success at this position, at this level.