Neil WalkerFor years, all we heard about was the trouble the Mets had finding a third baseman. Then Howard Johnson (807 games) and David Wright (1,571) showed up and we don’t hear much about that any more. Still, 162 people have played at least one game at third base in franchise history. What doesn’t get talked about nearly as much is second base, where 147 different guys have suited up and no one has as many games there as Johnson, much less Wright.

The Mets said goodbye to one of their second base stalwarts in Daniel Murphy, who played 500 lifetime games at the position for the club, last year. They traded for Neil Walker, who had one year before free agency. Walker seemed like a one-year option, until top prospect Dilson Herrera was viewed as ready to step in and take over. But Herrera was slowed all year by a shoulder injury before being dealt at the trade deadline and Walker turned out better than anyone expected, both at the plate where he had his best year yet hitting southpaws and in the field where he seemed like a big upgrade from Murphy.

So, now the Mets are in a similar situation that they were a year ago. Should they try to re-sign their second baseman in his walk year and if so, is he worthy of extending the Qualifying Offer (QO)? Murphy had been a solid performer for years for the team and then down the stretch in 2015 and in the NLDS and NLCS, he turned it up to a different level. The Mets did decide to give the QO, which Murphy turned down, thinking he would get a long-term offer from someone, hopefully the Mets.

When the Mets acquired Walker, the conventional thinking was that they would do the same thing with him – extend him the QO, have him decline it and then walk away with an extra supplemental first-round pick. But it’s not so easy this time around. Walker was in the middle of a hot streak when he went down with a season-ending back injury which required surgery. He’s supposed to be ready for Spring Training but you never want to go into free agency coming off surgery.

The first three years of the QO system, each of the players declined the offer and became free agents, thinking they would get a multi-year deal without a problem. But we saw teams often reluctant to sign guys who weren’t superstars who had the QO attached to them because they would, if they didn’t have one of the 10-worst records in the league, have to surrender their first-round pick in order to do so.

Last year was the first time that a free agent accepted a QO, as three of the 20 who were extended it came back to their clubs on a one-year deal. And no doubt a few of the other 17 wish they had accepted the QO, too. And among those who probably wish they had made a different decision were middle infielders.

In the four years of the QO system, there were five middle infielders who received the offer. In 2013 Robinson Cano and Stephen Drew got QOs and last year it was Ian Desmond, Howie Kendrick and Murphy. Of the five, only Cano ended up with a multi-year deal at an average annual value above the QO. The other four had varying levels of regret at declining the offer.

Perhaps no one was hurt by the QO system more than Drew, who was coming off a year with a 111 OPS+ as a solid defender with a 6.7 UZR/150 at SS. He seemed primed to get a contract north of $50 million and the Mets were among the suitors interested in him. But no one pulled the trigger and not only was Drew unsigned before Spring Training started, he was still a free agent on Opening Day. It wasn’t until late May when he re-signed with the Red Sox for a pro-rated salary of the QO he turned down previously. Drew lost 241 points of OPS from the previous season and in the three years since, he has not matched in any season the 501 PA he amassed in 2013.

Desmond appeared to be in line for the same fate as Drew. But he read the market better and accepted a one-year, $8 million deal, slightly over half the QO, to become an OF with the Rangers. Desmond rebounded with the bat and has a chance to try for a multi-year deal again this year, but it’s unlikely he’ll get another 7-year, $107 million offer like he turned down before his first foray into free agency.

Kendrick and Murphy each ended up with multi-year deals last year, but both fell short of the yearly value of the $15.8 million QO that they rejected. Kendrick signed a deal for two years and $20 million while Murphy got three years and $37.5 million. Perhaps the security of the multi-year deal makes up for the money they left on the table. But if Murphy had accepted the Mets’ one-year offer and went into free agency this year with a top five MVP season, he undoubtedly would end up a much richer man.

Now, the Mets and Walker each face a tough decision. While the Mets no longer have Herrera, they do have options at the position, including Gavin Cecchini, Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera. They could even potentially split time with one of the above and Kelly Johnson and still save over $12 million. But they could gamble that Walker would turn down the offer and still give him the QO, hoping to land the extra pick.

And if you’re Walker and the Mets extend the QO – how do you not take it? At one point, it seemed that the success of Murphy would bode well for Walker. Throughout their careers, Walker had been a better player. And while no club would expect to receive Murphy’s 2016 production, perhaps that would encourage them to offer a multi-year deal at a rate much closer to the QO. But the surgery throws a huge wrench into the equation. Do you open the vault for a guy coming off back surgery? More than a few teams will be scared away by that.

MLBTR estimates that the QO will be $16.7 million this year, up nearly a million dollars from a season ago.

The Mets don’t have a ton of salary coming off the books and they potentially have 12 arbitration cases looming. And they have to decide whether or not to pick up the option on Jay Bruce. Plus it seems near certain that Yoenis Cespedes will opt out of his deal and there will be more teams interested in giving him a multi-year deal than there was last offseason.

After they pulled the trigger on the Bruce deal, it seemed that he would be the Mets’ Plan B for 2017 if Cespedes left for greener pastures. But now it seems that Walker is in that equation, too. Bruce and Walker will likely cost the club just shy of $30 million in 2017. Will the Mets go for all three guys or do a Cespedes versus Bruce + Walker, since the cost will likely be similar?

The options are confusing enough but then you have to consider that the decisions are due shortly after the completion of the World Series. Clearly Sandy Alderson has his work cut out for him. Last year, he was content to let Cespedes leave without offering a big deal. But can he make that same decision after seeing him have success for a full season, rather than just two months?

If the Mets are somehow able to retain Cespedes, my choice as GM would be not to offer Walker the QO. But if Cespedes opts out and gives every indication that he’s not signing less than a five-year deal, then I offer Walker the QO and am happy with either outcome.

20 comments on “How will the Mets handle Neil Walker and the Qualifying Offer?

  • Eraff

    Walker is the 3rd “Back”…in addition to Duda and Wright–stop dreaming of the draft pick return…cut your losses.

  • Jimmy P

    The offseason always feels like an elaborate finger puzzle of sliding pieces.

    Two players not referenced in this piece are huge factors: David Wright and Jose Reyes.

    David refuses to slip easily into that good night, once again throwing a monkey wrench into any normal planning. If Wright begins the year at 3B, what happens to Jose? One could certainly see him slide over to 2B while we await the inevitable breakdown or simple diminishment of Wright’s productivity. If Mets retain Walker, there’s nowhere for Jose.

    Decisions, decisions.

    If you give the QO, you have to understand that he might accept it. OTOH, maybe Walker is willing to sign three-year deal at a bargain rate. This is not an easy but to crack.

    • Brian Joura

      An easy but to crack — Good one, Yogi!

      But in all seriousness, Jose will be back on the team, Mets have him at minimum wage. He’ll play a fair amount but hopefully not 150 or so games. I’d like it if Collins was able to use him like he did Johnson this year. We shall see.

  • metphin

    Loved Neil Walker this year, but as Eraff posted earlier, Mets cannot go with 3rd questionable health position player (Wright, Duda), especially in the midst of all the questions about pitchers with injuries also. Neil was awesome, but I see the Mets going with either Reyes or TJ Rivera at 2b, saving the $ for Cespedes.
    Also, Flores is a good possibility at 2b. Too many options, and the $ is needed elsewhere. Just good business to use the $ on other needs. OF is going to be an interesting play…maybe trading Bruce and his $13m is also a good idea, again saving the $ for Cespedes, Colon, etc. Mets have other options for RF in Conforto, Granderson, with Lagares and Nimmo splitting CF.
    The only offseason acquisition I can see is for a frontline Catcher.
    Currently, we just don’t have one of those…R. Rivera is a good backup.

  • Jerryk

    Walker at 1B? Reyes,Cabrera, Rivera with Flores and Kelly at backup. Sign Gomez, Conforto,Gomez/Granderson,Bell with Lagares the backup.

  • MattyMets

    A lot of dominos are lined up and we have to see how they fall. Alderson’s first order of business is to sit down with Cespedes and agents and find out what it would take for him to sign right now. Once he’s locked in or we know he’s not coming back, second thing is to gauge Wright’s health. Once those two big questions are answered then we can begin to make decisions about Walker, Duda, Bruce, etc.

  • Jimmy P

    What’s missing in this conversation is any sense of budget.

    Would be helpful to look at Mets financial commitments for 2017, including estimates of arbitration numbers for eligible players.

    Then maybe refer to 2016 payroll total, and add, say, another $10 million to that. Or another $20 million. It was a great year for revenue.

    How much money does that leave Sandy to at around with. I don’t really have those numbers clear in my head, so it’s hard to say “yes” or “no” to anything.

    • Brian Joura

      Last year, the Mets’ Opening Day budget was $135 million but the year before it was $101 million. Was that bump a one-time only thing? Who knows. In the past, there were claims that the budget was dependent on monthly whims. But Alderson always said the budget would go up once the club started winning.

      We can make assumptions but that’s all they’ll be. I spent most of last offseason trashing most of the moves Alderson made because I thought they were killing the budget to bring in a big hitter. And then when all of the little to middle moves were made, there was still money to bring back Cespedes…

      • Jimmy P

        Yes, exactly. As complementary moves, they were often outstanding. But when it looked like “the moves,” yikes.

        I just find it very hard to say another definitive about bringing back Colon, for example, without having any idea of the financial commitments.

        A fair estimate for 2017 would be $150. They can’t possibly cut payroll and salaries are soaring across the board. One complication will be if they finally extend one of the pitchers, Noah or Jake.

  • Metsense

    Neil Walker should receive a Qualifying Offer so that the Mets can use leverage on him. On the open market he would probably command a 4/56M contract without one. This is what Zobrist got, whereas Kinsler averages $15M and Pedroia 13.75M per year. If he were to accept the QO then the Mets would be paying him about 2.7M above market value for just one year but making sure his back will not be a long term problem. If he does not accept the QO then he would probably command a Murphy like contract of 3/37.5M. The Mets should not go more than a 3/39M offer if he refuses the QO.
    Walker is a career 273/339/436/775 with a 114 OPS+ and over the last 3 years he averaged 134 games played and 21 home runs. He is a solid professional ballplayer.

  • Jim OMalley

    I think, barring a poor medical report, Walker will be back either through a QO or a multi-year deal. The bigger Mets IF issues are catcher, third, and first.

  • Eraff

    Sign Ces First…… don’t let him out of the Building!!!! He’s a 30 Million player right now, and I’d far rather over pay him than resign walker for 17 million for a year—much less a multi year deal.

    Ces: 35, 30, 30 with a 4th year player option at 20. and a player opt out after the 2nd year. I’d trade Duda, Bruce…and pass on Walker to make Cespedes return Possible. Yes…over pay your superstar! I believe they’ve proven the point that they can play and win without Duda,,,without Walker…and (effectively) without Bruce….. that will save approximately $40,000,000 in 2017, and provide for improving the team with added players, and resigning Bullpen Guys.

    Cespedes is their Engine!

    • Jimmy P

      Sandy gave Granderson a four-year deal at age 34 or 33. Wright got a seven-year deal. It would be outstanding to limit Cespedes to a four-year term, but a fifth year may be necessary. He does strike me as a player who gets banged up, but he played through it all season long.

      He’s not perfect, but he sure is awesome.

    • MattyMets

      Eraff – I agree.

  • TexasGusCC

    Alderson has come out and said that as long as Walker continues his recovery, he will get a QO. Further, other GMs will look at that recovery and at least a few will be interested in a second baseman with good power that has really improved against lefties, that has a steady glove, and has been consistent.

    The problem with the other middle infielders to get QO other than Murphy, is they had issues. Murphy was defensively challenged at times and didn’t have a track record of any power; Kendrick was a declining 34 year old; Drew was an oft-injured shortstop that had mediocre stats and everyone knew his brother’s history about taking money and continuing his MIA approach to games played; and finally, Desmond had a great 2012 and 2013, but got a little worse every year and last year was such a disaster, that he’s a CFer now.

    Walker is not a superstar, but he is a solid player that is still in his prime and has been consistent and durable. He is getting the QO, but will he accept? I would bet against it.

    • Brian Joura

      Do you think Walker doesn’t have issues?

      FWIW – Kendrick played the year before his free agency at age 31, Walker at age 30.

      • TexasGusCC

        I thought Kendrick was a bit older, about 34 at the point of free agency. Walker does have issues, but back surgery is a procedure many players have come back from, like Beltre and Vlad Guerrero. In fact, 97% of the players have some back discomfort and 50% get some treatment, although the operation is the most extreme.

        Logic would seem to favor taking the QO, but he’s also a year older at the end of his prime. There will be doubts, but all you need is one team to think they are getting a bargain.

  • Eraff

    I think it’s crazy to expect anyone to give Walker a big deal coming off surgery… I certainly don’t want the Mets to do so. I am even more heavily opposed to paying him $17million dollars, if that gets in the way of signing Yo. The Sandwich pick is just not attractive enough to risk his acceptance. I like him….they can win without him.

    I’m not a big believer in “finishing the team” before Spring training. I do believe you need to establish the basic structure..Start with Yo!

    The $40million you spend on Walker, Bruce, Duda must be weighed against other needs–Addison Reed’s Needs!!! Needs for a RH OF Bat. Re-signing Kelly J.

    Special Note— don’t “plan” on DW. If he can play, it’s a wonderful “Problem”…planning on him is a bigger problem and mistake.

  • Jimmy P

    According to MLB Rumors, their best guess on salaries of Mets arb-eligible players:

    Lucas Duda – $6.7MM

    Rene Rivera – $2.2MM

    Justin Ruggiano – $1.5MM

    Addison Reed – $11.1MM

    Matt Harvey – $5.2MM

    Jeurys Familia – $8.8MM

    Jim Henderson – $1.4MM

    Zack Wheeler – $1.0MM

    Josh Edgin – $800K

    Travis d’Arnaud – $1.7MM

    Wilmer Flores – $1.9MM

    Jacob deGrom – $4.5MM

  • Eraff

    If I were Walker, I’d be shopping my Medical Reports to everyone, except the Mets. I might share them with SA when I saw a prospective contract offer (contingent on the Medicals). Otherwise, he’s diminishing his value if SA thinks he can bait the Market for a Draft Pick with a Q Offer.

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