At the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, second baseman Neil Walker became a hot commodity. Walker had spent the first seven years of his MLB career with the Pittsburgh Pirates which included a trip to the postseason in each of the last three years. But with Walker scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2016, the small-market Pirates didn’t want to see him leave town without them getting something in return. This notion led to Walker being traded this past off-season to the New York Mets in exchange for starting pitcher Jon Niese.
Walker is making the most of his season with the Mets as he is one the verge of surpassing his career-high in home runs (23) which he set in 2014, as his 22 homers are currently tied for the team lead in the category. Walker is also batting .279 with an on-base percentage of .341 as in my opinion he should be the team’s MVP. Walker was supposed to be a cog in the wheel for the Mets as they are looking to get back to the postseason, but he has been the team’s best player as injuries to third baseman David Wright, first baseman Lucas Duda, and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes have put him in the spotlight as the go-to-guy in their lineup. Walker’s hustle and slick fielding have made him a fan favorite in Queens, and he could be forcing the hand of Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to fork over a large amount of money to him in the off-season.
When Walker came to New York, he was charged with replacing a fan favorite at second base in Daniel Murphy. Murphy had spent the first seven years of his Major League Baseball career with the Mets, and although that he wasn’t the most talented player in the world, he could never be accused of not giving maximum effort. Murphy enjoyed a career year in 2015 as he hit 14 home runs with 73 runs batted in which helped the Mets win the National League East for the first time since 2006. But Murphy would make his mark in the postseason where he became the first player in MLB history to hit a home run in six consecutive games as he helped the Mets reach the World Series. The Mets were not willing to give Murphy the long-term contract that he was seeking which led to him leaving as a free agent to join the Washington Nationals. And now Murphy has become one of the better hitters in baseball as he has a new career-high in home runs (22), and runs batted in (87), while his .344 batting average is tops in the N.L.
Walker isn’t going to make the folks in the Big Apple completely forget about Murphy; especially since the Nationals are well on their way to winning the National League East, but he really picked the opportune time to have the season that he is currently having.
During the off-season the Mets took some flack for allowing Murphy to leave which came down to money and the fact that Alderson didn’t believe in his defense at second base. And yes the Mets will have the opportunity over the winter to offer Walker the same salary arbitration that they did to Murphy which would enable them to receive an additional draft pick should he leave, but Walker has New York right where he wants them.
The Mets don’t have anyone in their minor-league system that is ready to be a quality everyday second baseman; especially since they traded Dilson Herrera to the Cincinnati Reds last month to acquire outfielder Jay Bruce. Walker has been a defensive upgrade to Murphy, but he is also a switch-hitter which increases his value. And after allowing Murphy to leave town last year, the Mets are going to have to really overpay to keep Walker in Queens.
Alderson will have some decisions to make as Cespedes has the option to opt out of his deal with the Mets during the off-season and it could come down to the Mets re-signing him, or Walker.
And although that winning the National League East here in 2016 is a bit far-fetched for the Mets as they are stuck in third place of the division with a record 60-61 which finds them 11.5 games behind the Nats, they are 4.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final wild card spot in the N.L. If the Mets find a way to get back on track and sneak into the postseason, Walker will more than likely have a hand it, which will undoubtedly force the hand of the Mets who will have no choice but to pay him. Walker could then thank Murphy for the money that he would receive as he would be getting paid off of what the Nationals current second baseman did last October, and what he is doing now in D.C.