ShortstopThe World Series is now set with a matchup of the Cubs and Indians, meaning a team that hasn’t won it all since at least 1948 will be champion. For a lot of people that will be the story of the 2016 MLB season. But one thing that perhaps shouldn’t be forgotten is how this was the year of elite second baseman.

There were seven guys who played primarily second base in 2016 who put up at least a 5.0 fWAR, the most people in the 21st Century. And that doesn’t include Jason Kipnis, who put up a 4.8 fWAR for the AL Champion Indians. Here’s our list:

6.7 – Jose Altuve
6.0 – Robinson Cano
5.9 – Brian Dozier
5.8 – Ian Kinsler
5.5 – Daniel Murphy
5.2 – Dustin Pedroia
5.0 – Jean Segura

It’s quite a change from last year, when only Kipnis, at exactly 5.0, reached this level.

The Mets had a question surrounding second base heading into the 2016 season. They offered arbitration to Murphy, who turned it down hoping for a long-term offer from the club, which never came. Their first preference was to sign Ben Zobrist, who five times in his career topped a 5.0 fWAR mark but who was going to play in 2016 at his age 35 season. The Mets were willing to go four years with Zobrist, which was quite a statement, given his advanced baseball age.

Zobrist rebounded nicely from an injury-influenced year in 2015, doubling his fWAR total to a 4.0 mark in 147 games with the Cubs. When the Mets missed out on Zobrist, they turned to Neil Walker, who they picked up from the Pirates for his last year before free agency. Walker had a great start to his season, then went through an extended period where he flirted with replacement level before finishing with another scorching hot stretch.

Walker finished with a 3.7 fWAR in just 113 games before having season-ending back surgery. His last game was on August 27, so if he was able to stay healthy and hot over the remainder of the year, he had a shot at being a 5.0 fWAR second baseman, too.

A lot of fans are engaging in revisionist history right now, claiming they were in favor of re-upping with Murphy. While it was far from a slam-dunk decision, the majority of people at the time were okay with moving on from Murphy. And given that Murphy put up a fantastic offensive season, it’s surprising how well second base worked out for the Mets. Especially when you recall how they missed out on their first choice to replace him.

Now the Mets have to decide how to proceed with Walker. The Qualifying Offer (QO) has been established at $17.2 million, meaning the Mets have to offer Walker that much on a one-year deal if they want to insure themselves getting a draft pick should Walker end up signing with another club. FanGraphs calculates the production of Walker’s 2016 season being worth $29.9 million on the open market, which means that a QO is not unreasonable.

But the club will also have to factor in Walker’s back surgery, the history of middle infielders in the QO-era and the decline rate of second baseman on the wrong side of 30. Walker turned 31 in September.

No one can predict when a player will decline, or more drastically fall off a cliff. The general aging model has a player improving through his early 20s, having a peak in his late 20s and then a decline in his 30s. We saw that model shattered during the offensive explosion of the late 90s-early aughts but it seems to be relevant again now.

But what’s true for the group doesn’t apply exactly to every individual or, specifically in this case – to every position. As an example of the former, Curtis Granderson has been more productive in his 30s than he was in his 20s. As for the latter, Mets fans can certainly attest to how second basemen like Edgardo Alfonzo, Roberto Alomar and Carlos Baerga fell from elite level early, and at an alarming pace.

The more time spent thinking about the Walker situation, the better the QO seems to me, assuming that the money doesn’t take away the ability to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes. Walker can fall off considerably from his production of last year and still be worth the money. And if he does indeed go off the cliff, you’re only responsible for one season with the QO.

But there’s still the doubt if Walker will accept it.

12 comments on “Mets had all good choices with Daniel Murphy-Ben Zobrist-Neil Walker decision

  • Mike Koehler

    Not sure about revisionist history, but it sure seems like banking on Wright to play a full season was foolishness. At the very least Murphy could have spelled him.

    At least we have Reyes next year, so long as they agree to his cheap option.

    • Brian Joura

      They’ve already announced they are picking up Reyes’ option.

  • Jerryk

    Hoo boy,long term contracts to older players usually don’t work. Let both Cespedes and Walker walk. Maybe sign Gomez to a 2 year deal.

  • Matty Mets

    I like Neil Walker as a player and clubhouse guy but we have 3 cheaper options at second – Reyes, Rivera and Flores. Either of the latter two would make a good platoon partner for Kelly Johnson, who could be brought back for 2 – 2.5MM – as long as it’s real life and not the Mets360 GM project where a rival GM outbid me with a surprising contract.

    If we resign Cespedes we’ll have close to 65MM – half the payroll – tied up in 3 players (with Wright and Grandy). Assuming we flip Bruce and don’t have room to expand payroll much we have to account for a lot of arbitration increases… point is, I think getting stuck with $17.2 million for Walker might not be a risk we can take.

  • Jim OMalley

    I think the QO to Walker makes sense. He gets a year to prove he’s healthy and we’re one year closer to having Rosario and Smith in the IF. If he declines and he signs elsewhere, we get a draftpick.

  • TexasGusCC

    As I recall, three years ago the Mets made a four year deal with a very injury prone outfielder that had just turned 33. Also, as the article reminds us, they made a four year offer to a 35 year old second baseman. How can Walker’s age of 31 even be brought up?

    I’d love to have him because I don’t trust the alternatives. As I wrote two days ago, Rivera is not what we should bank on, Flores is closer but not Walker’s level, and Cecchini hasn’t even gotten his feet wet yet.

    • Brian Joura

      There’s anecdotal evidence that 2B age worse than other positions.

      Outside of Cano and Zobrist, how many 2B can you name who get 4 or 5 years or more? If we looked at OFers, my guess is we would have no problem naming a dozen or more on contracts this long

      If MLB GMs treat the position differently, shouldn’t we at least weigh that in our internal calculations?

      • David Groveman

        I would rather have Wilmer Flores play full time at 3rd with Reyes and Cabrera splitting the middle infield or have Reyes stay at third and allow Gavin Cecchini to play second in 2017 than sign Neil Walker.

        The Mets need to add bats for 2017 and Walker does not play a position of great need.

        • Eraff

          OK…you’re re-hired!!!

        • Brian Joura

          You say you want offense – well Walker provided similar offense to Jose Bautista while playing a solid middle infield. I like Gavin Cecchini but let’s be honest – he’s not going to produce as well as Walker either at the plate or in the field.

  • Eraff

    Am I getting the same guy, post-surgically?

    I’m really uncomfortable with Old Guys with Back Problems. They don’t help with Setup or Clean-up at Parties…they won’t even help you carry the beach chairs and umbrellas or beer.

    Wright….Duda…Walker—Back…Back…Back.

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