Saturday, February 7, 2015

Walker Loses In Arb; Settles For $8M

The Pirates won their first (and biggest in terms of money) arbitration hearing when the judge ruled in their favor and against second baseman Neil Walker. The Pirates came in with a $8M offer; Walker countered with $9M. Matt Schwartz, who calculates arb values for MLB Trade Rumors, had Walker projected to earn $8.6M. We thought that seemed like a good midpoint to agree on, but Neal Huntington and Neil Walker stuck to their guns.

Neil Walker (photo: Al Behrman/Associated Press)
Walker is still doing OK. The 29-year-old infielder made $5.75M last season, and has one more arb year to go unless he and the team reach an accord. The Pittsburgh Kid had perhaps his best campaign in 2014 with a slash of .271/.342/.467 with a career-high 23 homers. Unfortunately, in what has become common in recent seasons, he's missed time with lower back pain and other injuries. Walker's averaged 133 games played the last three years and about 550 PAs, and that has hurt his value some.

Durability isn't his only issue. He's been strong offensively, slashing .274/.341/.435 and averaging 15 homers per season since claiming second base in 2010. Not so much on the leather end, tho. After on-the-job training in 2010-11, he played a couple of years just below league average defensively, but last season saw him end with a -8.4/UZR 150 per Fangraphs. Walker is a big guy at 6'3" & 210 lbs., and both his glove and back seem to be balking at the rigors of a middle infield position.

That's what makes any effort to sign him to a long-term deal such a quandary; Walker will be asked by the Bucs to move to another, less taxing spot like first base, which lowers his value. The Pittsburgh Kid has one season after this before he gets his chance at a payday and he'll need compensated well to pass up his 2017 shot at free agency, especially knowing that he's in line to make eight figures in 2016 no matter what happens.

The Bucs have two more arb cases on the burner. Pedro Alvarez asked for $5.75M v the team offer of $5.25M, and RHP Vance Worley wants $2.45M while Pittsburgh offered $2M.


WilliamJPellas said...

I have always believed that Walker's best defensive position is third base. What about just swapping him and Harrison out, one for the other? 23 home runs for one season may be merely OK from your first baseman, but from your third baseman? That's more than respectable and I think Walker's value would still be pretty high at third, if still lower (from an offensive standpoint) than it is at second.

Ron Ieraci said...

My guess, Will, is that they got Kung to play third, tho he could also move to second, which would involve fewer moving pieces. Prospect 2B Alen Hansen is also projected to be a season or two away.
I'm thinking they want The Kid at first just because a) no help on the horizon there and b) it offers the least wear and tear on the bod, and it looks like his back issues are gonna be chronic.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ron,
Its been awhile. Looking forward to the 2015 version of our buccos.

I agree Walker is out of position. It's interesting how many options we now have at almost all positions. It was not too long go when the subs were scrubs.

Walker at first depends a ton on Pedro - Hopefully he finds his groove at first.

I'd go with JayHay at 2B and Walker at 3B. Kang is an unknown and its too early to put him anywhere. I hope he is a stud but its Korean baseball - if he pushes one of the starters then the pressure is on.

I have no concerns about Polanco - he is a stud. Out outfield is awesome. I don't mind the Snider trade although I do like LunchBox and wish him well. I think the trade makes sense assuming a decent PTBNL

Lets Go Bucs

Ron Ieraci said...

True, Dave, Kang is a wild card. Josh has to prove he can repeat to a degree, too, tho I think a .750 OPS is right in line with his career slash, and that's plenty good for second. Pedro is short term no matter what he does; I'm fairly sure that a good year gets him traded in 2016. Walker could play third; I think in an ideal world, his back is better off at first. It does depend largely on Kang's performance.