Extending the one-year, $17.2 million offer to the recovering second baseman drew some criticism, but it was the right call for Sandy Alderson and the New York Mets.
For better or worse, the New York Mets know all too well the sting of letting a second baseman with a solid but not star-studded track record flee in free agency.
Maybe the baseball gods sent Neil Walker – Daniel Murphy‘s firm replacement – as consolation for perhaps the most unwatchable display of career turnaround in a rival’s uniform. But maybe, just maybe, those deities meant more when they transformed the slap-hitting lefty into an offensive machine.
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The Mets second-baseman swap (by way of letting Murphy walk and flipping Jon Niese for Walker) may have been something of a precursor to the events of the ensuing offseason – that is, right about now.
Today, November 8, 2016, which is not a historic day otherwise, it is Walker’s turn. A 31-year- old on the heels of a proficient season at the plate has relinquished his life jacket and may test the free agent waters unabated (pun most definitely intended).
The Mets, for their part, should want him back in Queens. His robust .282/.347/.476 slash line was met with newfound power, as Walker matched his career high in home runs, 23, while showing impressive pop from both sides of the plate. Offensively potent, and defensively stable, Walker was a mainstay in the middle of the order until a back flare-up escalated to season-ending capacity.
A quick look at the market – where the only comparable infield option is Justin Turner – will make the Met
fan recoil as he or she understands the team’s need for infield depth. Even with Lucas Duda, T.J. Rivera, David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Asdrubal Cabrera in the fold, underperformance and injury largely plagued the standing group, and future performance is suspect for some.
After a long hard look, barring the emergence of an unforeseen trade candidate, the Mets best infield option is Neil Walker. And while Turner is an attractive alternative, reports will have you bet he wants back in Los Angeles.
Now, having established that the route is for a Walker return in 2017, the qualifying offer comes into question. Yesterday, the Mets extended the one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer to Walker, the same deal nine other players were offered.
There’s a catch, in case you’re not familiar. If the player chooses to decline the qualifying offer (he has a week to decide), the team that signs him in free agency – unless it is the team that offered him the Q.O. – loses its top draft pick. Since the installment of the Q.O. system, many teams have been reluctant to sign
any player with draft pick compensation attached to his name. Last year, Chase Utley, Howie Kendrick, Dexter Fowler, and Ian Desmond were subject to deals meager relative to the market standard.
Again, that destiny will accompany one of the ten qualifying offer recipients this offseason, and Walker, who missed the final month of the season, is a top candidate. At the same time, his agents likely see his offensive coming-out year as a ticket to a multiyear deal and, as odds would have it, Walker will probably
decline the Q.O.
That’s where things get interesting. When Walker hits free agency, the Mets should and will remain a player in his pursuits. Leverage will be on the side of Sandy Alderson, as other potential Walker suitors will have to swallow the pill of losing their top pick in the upcoming draft.
This is the precise mindset of Alderson, a man who has proven himself savvy and a man who seems to get what he wants more often than not. He likely sees the alternative of Walker accepting the $17 million as less-than-ideal, but not so bad.
Because, after all, if Walker accepts, the Mets get what they want, and what they need – a switch-hitting second baseman, not overwhelming but skilled in his craft, back in Queens.
Should he decline, the Mets will have the bargaining tools at the disposal of a general manager who championed the Yoenis Cespedes return of an offseason ago. This time around, he’ll be reeling in Walker – and keeping him where he belongs.