Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
A friend was recently bemoaning the Mets decision to let Daniel Murphy walk and felt they had a vastly inferior alternative in Neil Walker who promises to be more expensive than the near-MVP candidate of the Washington Nationals. While I am usually the one who’s quick to criticize the front office, I couldn’t let that opinion go unanswered.
First of all, let’s look at the numbers. Over a 162 game period Daniel Murphy produces a highly credible 13 HRs, 78 RBIs and .296 batting average while playing extremely questionable defense and executing some head scratching base running plays. Walker over the same span would provide 20 HRs, 81 RBIs and a .273 batting average while providing superior defense. Whether you prefer a higher average or more power, it seems they are pretty much a wash.
At the time Daniel Murphy was allowed to walk away the Mets were fixated on the compensatory pick that would come from making him a Qualifying Offer which he declined. They won this gamble and Murphy found himself making a bit less than what was projected for him by accepting a 3 year $37.5 million contract in DC.
To address that void the Mets shipped disgruntled and superfluous pitcher Jon Niese to Pittsburgh in exchange for free-agent-to-be Neil Walker. The money was close so he came to the Mets at a net cost of just $1.55 million for the entire year. Daniel Murphy was coming off a year in which he earned $8 million, thus resulting in a payroll savings of $6.45 million and a supplemental draft pick.
The end result was a 2016 season in which Neil Walker provided 23 HRs and 55 RBIs in just 103 games. Of course, the season ended early as a result of surgery, but he was on pace to get 30 HRs by year’s end. Had he finished with that total most of the Daniel Murphy supporters would be a lot less vocal.
Now Murphy’s season for the Nationals was one for the ages. He batted an incredible .347 with 25 Hrs and 104 RBIs. The batting average is likely to return to earth somewhat as he’d only been a .289 hitter prior to last season, but it’s possible the run production will remain the same now that he has an RBI position in the order and some decent bats around him for protection.
Right now the rumor is that the Mets are exploring a $40 million plus contract for Walker with the stipulation he would spread this year’s $17.2 million lost QO bet over the term of the deal to reduce the payroll hit overall in 2017. For those folks keeping score at home, that’s more money for what people think is a lesser player.
However, the answer is, as usual, not nearly as simple as it would appear to be on the surface. Obviously the Mets extended the QO in the attempt to hedge their bets against a Yoenis Cespedes departure and David Wright’s ongoing health issues. The latter is now the rationale behind these contract extension talks. Should Wright be forced to retire, they need someone capable of manning 3B and providing Wright’s power.
This situation may never come to fruition, of course, because reports abound that talks have hit what’s been called a terminal roadblock. If so, then as opined last week, the Mets may have to consider what’s best to do with Walker who may indeed want to test the free agent market if he proves himself healthy. Towards that end the Mets may find themselves facing the very same dilemma at the end of 2017 as they did at the end of 2016 and have to provide an even more expensive QO or have him walk away for nothing.
If the latter happens, it’s not necessarily the worst thing in the world. They will have paid Walker $28 million for two seasons of credible work and rid themselves of Jon Niese in the process (whose only work option is a minor league deal alongside castoff Ruben Tejada with the Yankees). Next season should have Asdrubal Cabrera on one side Amed Rosario at shortstop and there are a myriad of options for the other.
Who do you think will have the better 2017 – Daniel Murphy or Neil Walker? Do remember that Walker is both allegedly healthy for the first time in years AND is playing for his free agent future. Personally I think they'll be a lot closer than many would suspect.