With the signing of Andrew McCutchen now finalized, many fans are now asking, “Who’s next?” Based on the roster, the easy answer to that question is Neil Walker. Pat Lackey [link] and David Todd [link] and both have pretty opposite view points and both make pretty good points.
First off, let’s talk about what we know. Neil Walker has 1 year and 166 days (just barely shy of 2 years) of ML service time. What that means is that the Pirates have control of Walker until the end of the 2016 season. It also means that barring a demotion to AAA this year, which if that happens will essentially make this post pointless, Walker will be considered a Super Two player next offseason. That means that instead of getting a third full season of earning what the team says, he is eligible for a “bonus” arbitration season. So instead of getting the normal 3 arbitration years before free agency, Walker will be blessed with having 4.
There isn’t much of a precedent for contracts that could be used as framework for a possible Walker extension. Both Ian Kinsler and Ben Zobrist signed contracts at around this same stage in their careers, but neither players were Super Two players. So there contracts only needed to buy out 3 arbitration years and not the 4 that Walker’s deal would have to do.
Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors says that Walker’s 4 arbitration years would most likely cost the Pirates between $18-20 million, which seems to be about right based on my estimations on if he just maintains his current production. He also says that any free agent years after that would be worth roughly $8 million.
So, let’s say, hypothetically, that the Pirates announced tomorrow that they’ve signed Walker for 6 years, $30 million and 2 club options for $8 million. That would make him a Pirate through 2017 with the possibility of ’18 and ’19. Would that be smart?
Here’s why I say the Pirates shouldn’t rush anything.
Walker is set to make about $500,000 this year. Last year, he put up a pretty solid 3 WAR. If he improves this year and say, puts up a 4 WAR season, his value in terms of dollars really doesn’t change much. However, it would prove that maybe this is someone the Bucs should keep around. I just don’t think we know enough about Walker to throw out roughly $30 million at this point.
Walker isn’t going anywhere soon, he’s making close to the league minimum right now. I would give it one more season before we start discussing any kind of extensions. The other thing that I haven’t even mentioned, too, is that Walker isn’t all that young right now. This will be his age 26 season, meaning he won’t be a free agent until he is 31, which is also the age that players sometimes start their journey on the downside of the hill. So is buying out any of Walker’s free agent years really even worth it?
Give it some more time. Get one more full season of information about Walker into our heads and go from there.