Early this week it was announced that Neil Walker joined a select group of free agents who have eschewed free agency (for this year) in lieu of accepting the one year Qualifying Offer of $17.2 million.
He will play once again with the Mets on this one year deal and will have the opportunity to become a free agent again at the conclusion of the 2017 season.
From the player’s standpoint this is a wise move. Obviously $17 million is an incredible amount of money in and of itself. Plus as a player who last was on the field on August 27th and then later had a lumbar microdisectomy (translation: back surgery) he and his agents must have known how skittish other teams would be about offering him a long term deal.
Add to that the fact that a signing team other than the Mets would then lose a high draft pick. This has traditionally made it more difficult for good but not elite players to find satisfactory long term deals.
From the Mets’ point of view it is a mixed blessing that Walker will be returning to the fold. We have to assume that the medical staff has assured the front office that Walker will be healthy to start next season. Clearly the Mets’ doctors know a few things about balky backs considering that three quarters of the infield (Walker, Lucas Duda, and David Wright) have suffered or are suffering with them. Asdrubal Cabrera avoided the bad back but had knee issues just to avoid being left out of the gimpy brigade.
Had Walker not suffered his injury and completed the season he likely would not have accepted the QO and would enter free agency looking at offers in the range of three years for $40 to $50 million. The Mets would probably have not bid that high and would likely have taken their chances at second with some combination of Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores, and T.J. Rivera. Meanwhile the team would have saved money on Walker and would have collected another supplementary first round draft pick as they did last year when Daniel Murphy flew the coop.
One thing we must give the organization and locker room credit for is that in recent years when players have come to Queens they end up bonding well with the city and with their teammates. Murphy really wanted to stay but the team preferred to move on. Jay Bruce has said that he was trepidacious about coming to the Mets but now has a real affection for the city and the ballclub.
Walker too had reservations about leaving the small market Pirates and coming to the big city. But apparently he and Mrs. Walker have enjoyed being a part of the Mets family. So in taking the QO he gets a larger salary in 2017 than he would elsewhere. He stays in an environment that he likes. His options remain open for next year. For him it would appear all win-win.
For the Mets to get a win out of this they would need Walker to stay healthy during 2017 and to have a season at least as good as his career average which is .273 batting average, .339 on base percentage, .436 slugging percentage, which adds up to a 775 OPS.