Posted on November 14, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
Following the lead of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, second baseman Neil Walker has accepted a $17.2 million qualifying offer from the New York Mets. Walker will return to the Mets in 2017, his second season in New York after being traded there from the Pittsburgh Pirates last offseason. The Mets made qualifying offers to two players, but as expected, Yoenis Cespedes declined his and will test free agency.
Walker was always going to be a tossup with regard to accepting or rejecting the qualifying offer, as some were predicting that he would receive at least a three-year deal worth $30-40 million on the open market. However, Walker’s value was hurt by the fact that he missed the end of the season due to a back injury. Walker and his representatives believe he’ll be fine for spring training, but the injury, as well as the fact that a team would have to give a draft pick to sign him, made teams hesitant to make long-term offers to him this early in the offseason, leading Walker to accept the $17.2 million qualifying offer.
Without Walker on the market, the free agent class among second baseman becomes quite weak. Outside of the aging Chase Utley, there are few second baseman on the market that will get teams excited. There are also few teams outside the Dodgers and Angels that are in desperate need of a new second baseman, which would have also hurt Walker in free agency. The fact that Walker is off the market may encourage those teams, and any other needing a second baseman, to explore trades. Ian Kinsler may be available, as the Tigers look to cut payroll and get younger. Several teams have also asked the Twins about Brian Dozier.
As for the Mets, they were set whether Walker decided to return or not. Outside of Cespedes, Walker was arguably New York’s best hitter in 2016. He hit .282, which was hit highest average since 2010. He also tied his career-high with 23 home runs, despite his season ending in late August, and posted a career-high OPS of .823. While the Mets may be overpaying Walker slightly at $17.2 million for one year of service, they will be glad to have his bat back in the middle of the lineup, especially if Cespedes ends up leaving in free agency.
Of course, had Walker decided to test the free agent waters, the Mets would have been fine. New York has Wilmer Flores and Jose Reyes under contract for next season, and either could have handled second base, at least in a part-time capacity. The Mets also have rookies T.J. Rivers and Gavin Cecchini as possible second baseman. Of course, as long as Walker’s back issues are a thing of the past, he will be the team’s full-time second baseman in 2017. Meanwhile, Flores and Reyes will see time elsewhere, as both are options at third base with David Wright’s health still being a huge question mark. Both will also serve as backups at other positions.
The Mets certainly would have had more payroll flexibility had Walker not accepted the $17.2 million qualifying offer. But he also lessens the need to pursue offensive help on the free agent market, whether they’re able to re-sign Cespedes or not. If Walker can replicate his production from 2016 and remain healthy all season, the Mets will be more than fine with having him back for 2017.