The decision to make Neil Walker a Qualifying Offer is done and his now $17.2 million cost as a result of accepting it puts him under a microscope. The perception by most fans is that the club erred, thinking they could either extend him at a reasonable price or that he’d walk away as a free agent. I felt no one would gamble on him until his back was proven healthy and that the Mets were setting themselves up to be the expensive guinea pigs during this recovery season. If he does well, then he’s likely gone as a free agent. If not, then the Mets are on the hook for a guy who even in a career average year is probably a bit overpaid.
2nd base is a position where the Mets do indeed have plenty of depth should Walker go on the DL once again. Major league in-house options include both Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores. Asdrubal Cabrera has also played there should Amed Rosario demonstrate with a monster year in Las Vegas that he’s ready to play in the majors, thus allowing Cabrera to shift to the other side of the diamond. You also have some folks likely ticketed for AAA in TJ Rivera and Gavin Cecchini who looked like they can handle the bat as well.
Consequently if Walker is healthy and playing well, the Mets might be smart to consider a mid-season trade to another club rather than lose him for nothing at year’s end (or repeat the same QO soap opera once again). With the lack of a market for Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson, the Mets’ payroll is probably a bit higher than the owners would like, so parlaying the QO mistake into a return of sorts in mid year is a double benefit as it also relieves you of half the salary obligation. The question is where are some landing spots for Neil Walker.
The Los Angeles Angels are entrusting 2nd base to a man who was pretty much played himself out of the majors until the Nationals gave him another shot last year, Danny Espinosa. He responded with the usual power – 24 HRs – but at the cost of a .209 average and a whopping 174 Ks in just over 500 ABs. It would appear that his position with the Angels is vulnerable and his salary of $5.3 million wouldn’t prove much of an obstacle if he was forced to the bench.
Joe Panik started off with a couple of partial seasons with San Francisco hitting over .300 and for that reason they felt confident to hand him the starting job in 2016. He regressed significantly to the tune of a .239 AVG with 10 HRs and 50 RBIs. They’ll be watching him closely this year to find out which Joe Panik is the real one. If it turns out to be the 2016 version then SF may want to look for an upgrade. Offense is not their strong suit.
A less likely target but a possible one is San Diego where they have not been in serious contention for some time now. They turned 2nd base duties over to career minor leaguer Ryan Schimpf last year who did actually better at the major league level than he’d done in the minors. I can’t say I recall seeing the 28 year old play here in El Paso, but the power numbers were impressive. In half a season’s worth of ABs he hit 20 HRs and drove in 51. That’s the good news. The bad news is he hit just .217 and struck out on a pace to hit about 220 for the season. Obviously a high power/low-cost option at 2B is something they would be happy to have, but at some point the ability to get on base and make contact may motivate them to seek a better option.
Tampa is a better team than San Diego and they’re entrusting 2nd base to Nick Franklin, a guy who flamed out with the Mariners by age 25. For his major league career he’s hit a respectable 22 HRs and 84 RBIs in around 700 ABs, but that goes along with 224 Ks and a .219 average. Like Schimpf in San Diego, he might be someone on a hot seat if the contact rate doesn’t improve. He doesn’t even have Schimpf’s power as an excuse.
Kansas City is banking on Whit Merrifield, last year a 27 year old rookie with no power who did hit .283. He’s a .273 career hitter in the minors but at some point they may want a little more punch in the lineup. Then again, having Jorge Soler there in RF for the full season should help in that regard.
Unfortunately that doesn't seem like a very big potential market for Walker. There could be people who would use him at 3B or as a DH, but the number of landing spots doesn’t appear to be huge. Furthermore, Sandy Alderson has not had much success lately on the salary dump front. Then again, a healthy Neil Walker is a more attractive player to most clubs than the outfielders who reluctantly are returning.