The future is unsure for the New York Mets at the keystone, with Neil Walker set to hit free agency and the market raveled in a scarcity of infield talent.Neil Walker has gifted the New York Mets with above average production for the position he plays, and it is now clear that New York got the better end of the December swap which brought the switch-hitting second baseman to Flushing.
At that point, the Mets had effectively shut the door on re-signing longtime offensive contributor and October baseball extraordinaire, Daniel Murphy.
Murphy later signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the division rival Nationals. His production makes him one of the best value gets for a free agent signee in recent memory, and it could well be the difference in the Nationals’ commanding National League East lead.
Nearly a year later, the Mets face a similar dilemma with Neil Walker, who is set to hit free agency following the regular season.
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A quick look at the market will suffice to tell you that Walker seems destined to be the highest paid second baseman this winter.
With no in-house contingency plan (the 22-year old Dilson Herrera was viewed as the Mets’ second baseman of the future – but he was traded to the Reds for Jay Bruce), New York will have to commit free agent dollars to Walker or swing another impact deal to shore up the middle infield.
If Walker isn’t the free agent target, the market has just reserves to speak of at the keystone.
Chase Utley, who turns 38 in December, might be Mets’ fans consensus choice to burn at a stake, so he represents a non-option.
Beyond Utley, you couldn’t make an argument for starting the likes of Stephen Drew, Kelly Johnson, or Gordon Beckham, each of whom is set to hit free agency this winter.
One option comes in former Met, now Dodger third baseman, Justin Turner, who is quietly a top run producer in the National League. If the Mets could dislodge him from Los Angeles – though the Dodgers seem likely to make a strong push to retain Turner – the club could add a versatile infielder to the mix capable of backing up David Wright, who is now, officially, an injury liability.
If the Mets let Walker depart in free agency, the front office could find options in Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips – though he has shown a disinclination to waive his no-trade clause – among utilitymen Logan Forsythe and Brett Lawrie, if their under-.500 clubs choose to market them.
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The Mets do have some Major League talent in Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes, both of whom are capable of playing second base. The former has thrived in a fill-in-for-the-wounded role, and the Mets just haven’t seen enough production from Reyes to anoint him the savior, either.
It would be ill-advised for the Mets to not add another infielder to the mix, especially given the long-term injuries endured on the corners this season.
After canvassing the options, reality brings the agenda back to one person to fill the Mets’ looming second base vacancy: Neil Walker.
Walker is on the way to completing a career season, as he has slashed .272/.333/.459 while cranking 20 home runs. Though the slash line meets the standards of his first seven big league seasons, he finds himself just two home runs away from a career high total in the second week of August.
With GM Sandy Alderson acknowledging an interest – and a willingness to speak with Walker’s representatives – and Walker himself speaking in kind, there seems to be a real potential at striking a deal.
But based on the feeble market, and given the Mets’ relative desperation for a future second baseman, Walker may have the leverage, and he may be inclined to soak up the wonders of a buyer-saturated free agent market.
After all, someone always seems to overpay.
Walker may be in line for four years at a $12-$15 million average annual salary, though estimates like those are largely speculative at this stage. For what it’s worth, if Walker does choose to test the market and pass up an extension in the five-day club-player exclusivity period, the Mets are likely to extend the veteran a qualifying offer, which will be in the order of $16.7 million.
All things considered, the Mets will have to do whatever it takes to make sure the club can replace the production of Walker – Walker himself looks like a safe bet – without Herrera in the fold. And “whatever it takes” will likely be a grossly high expenditure, but that seems to be the way teams must operate while in contention.
As long as the Mets chase that elusive crown, they’ll have to fall in line with the yearly custom of buying large. Neil Walker-for-Jon Niese trades don’t usually fall into your lap.
Godspeed, Sandy. You have your work cut out.