Neil Walker went back to his roots recently when the New York Mets traveled to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates in a three-game series. Walker was the first-round draft pick, and the 11th overall, of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2004. He played seven years for the Pirates compiling a career line of .338/.431/.774 while hitting 93 home runs with a 114 OPS+. He was considered a good-hitting second baseman and even won the Silver Slugger Award in 2014. He is a born and raised Pittsburgher, and he had been living his boyhood dream. So how did he end up in New York?
The Mets already had a second baseman that just blasted the team through the playoffs and into the World Series by the name of Daniel Murphy. The Mets also had a very good, but young, up-and-coming second baseman in Dilson Herrera. Herrera currently is the youngest player on their Triple-A roster in Las Vegas. The Mets chose not to negotiate a multi-year offer with Murphy because they felt Herrera was going to be the Met future at second base. The Mets instead offered Murphy a qualifying offer, which if accepted, would allow the young Herrera another year (or partial year) of seasoning in the minors. Murphy turned the Mets down. It looked like Herrera’s future was 2016. He would be splitting time at second with Wilmer Flores and Flores would also be giving David Wright routine rest at third base.
On December 9, 2015 General Manager Sandy Alderson made another good move when he traded Jon Niese, a $9 million pitcher with no rotation spot after August 1st 2016, for the steady second baseman Walker. The team’s new second baseman also had a career OPS higher than the .755 OPS of his predecessor. The trade brought in an experienced player and allowed the Mets to give Herrera more development time. Walker would be a free agent at the end of the season and if he played well then the Mets could make him a qualifying offer and even gain another supplemental first-round pick. Walker was a switch hitter who had trouble batting from the right side. He had very little power with a .684 OPS from that side. The Mets could easily give Flores some of these righty at-bats and that only made the trade look better. Then things changed.
Walker is hitting lefty pitchers with authority this year. He has five home runs from the right side. His next home run will equal his career total when facing a left handed pitcher. His 2016 slash line when facing a lefty is .396/.727/1.123. What also has changed is that Wright is out again with an extended injury, This is on top of his spinal stenosis condition. Wright will be 34 years old this December. In 2013 he played 112 games, 134 games in 2013, and only 38 games last year. The Mets can no longer depend on an aging Wright to stay on the field. It will be difficult to lure a free agent to play third base for the Mets because the specter of a Wright recovery will discourage a free agent from signing.
Walker has played 353 minor league, 71 foreign league and 15 major league games at third base. His career .774 OPS has been in the top half to top third of National League third baseman in each of the past five years. If Walker is willing to play third base then the Mets should start working on an extension with him. Murphy signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal last winter with the Nationals. Ben Zobrist signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cubs. In 2014, Dustin Pedroia signed an eight-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox. A four-year, $54 million deal should be able to get the extension done with Walker. He would be turning age 35 at the end of the deal. He is a positive influence in the clubhouse and he has adapted and excelled in New York. It is a reasonable price to pay for an experienced, consistent hitter.
If the Mets attempting to trade for a Walker-type hitter it would be costly. Flores is the leading internal candidate but after nearly 1,000 ABs he carries a .668 OPS which is more suited for a backup role. The Mets’ best minor league third baseman is possibly David Thompson, a Low-A player, and he would be a few years away. This won”t bet a splashy signing but a logical low risk extension. I think it is in the Mets best interests to keep Walker a New Yorker.