Q&A: Will PNC Park Burn Down When Neil Walker Eventually Leaves?

Last week we started a Q&A article that will run every Friday. Right after the first article went up, we got a lot more questions. Normally I’ll be taking about five questions per week (and maybe addressing some of the common ones in First Pitch articles). You can submit your questions all week by using the Q&A form on the right side of pretty much every page on the site. Below are the questions for this week.

Zach Wolfe: Will the city of Pittsburgh be more likely to burn down PNC if Walker gets traded next off-season (even if Kang and/or Hanson is ready to take over), or leaves in FA after the 2016 season?

I don’t think either outcome will be pretty. But I think a trade will be worse, since it would involve the Pirates actively sending Walker away, rather than letting him walk and leaving the illusion that it was two parties who couldn’t reach a deal. Walker is a hometown hero. He’s the guy you see on TV every night after every win or loss, because he’s the guy that TV guys go to after every game for a quote. As a result, people are going to irrationally value him as someone who should be on this team for his entire career. That ignores the risks involved, such as the fact that an extension would cover his declining years, and the fact that he’s been injury prone and that will only get worse in his 30s.

I don’t know if Kang or Hanson will step up as options to replace Walker this year. It could be someone else. (Who was talking about Josh Harrison as the future starting third baseman at this time last year?) But if there is someone who can take over, and if Walker isn’t needed at another position, it would make total sense to trade him. But when that happens, expect outrage.

Shawn Inlow: Agree / Disagree:  The Pirates’ biggest weakness going into the 2015 season is the lack of a True #4 hitter.  Discuss.

I’d disagree. They basically have the same lineup as last year, just without Russell Martin and with Francisco Cervelli. Martin wasn’t a “True #4 hitter”, and they had one of the best offenses in baseball last year. This isn’t a team with a lot of weaknesses. If the lack of a number four hitter is their biggest one, then they’re in good shape, since we saw last year that they don’t need one to have a great offense.

Daryl Restly: Do you think the Pirates will continue to keep Jose Tabata at $4M this year and $4.5M next year to simply be an, at best, fifth outfielder.

I’m going to answer that question with another question. Do you think I will keep my student loans for the next two years, even though my business degree, at best, helps me with maybe 10% of my job? Just like the Pirates, I don’t have a choice.

Nelson Gilbert: What do you think will happen if Gregory Polanco struggles early ad he did at the end of last season. Do you think it will be Lambo or Harrison as his replacement.  If not who?

I don’t think Polanco is going to be on a short leash early in the year. Look at what the Pirates did the last two seasons in right field. They went with guys like Jose Tabata and Travis Snider, and stuck with them for most of the first two months of each season, despite their struggles. Polanco is younger, and has much more upside. If he’s struggling around June, then they might send him down to get more work in Triple-A. As to who could replace him, I refer you to this article.

Steve Dimmick: The Pirates seem to be high on Kang already.  Besides what they scouted in Korea, have they seen him hit anything live other than BP in ST?  When does the live pitching generally start for hitters?

Kang did play at Pirate City when he was younger, and on a Korean traveling team. The Pirates are one of the few teams that scouts heavily in Asia, as shown by the number of players they have signed out of Taiwan. So I’d imagine they have seen plenty of Kang prior to signing him. As for live pitching and Kang hitting live BP, both things started this Tuesday.

Bill Kline: Is the studying of the Golden State Warriors a result of all the utility players they brought in or are all the utility players a result of the research?

I think the utility players are a result of the research, but a bigger reason for the utility players would be what happened with Josh Harrison last year. I wrote about that earlier this week.


Alex Warren: On the revised site where do I now find information such as the salary expenditures current and projected, etc.?

On the top of every page there is a tab that says “Resources.” Hover over that and it will give you links to the 2015 payroll, future payroll, 25-man projection, organizational depth chart, and the Spring Training tracker.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Mark Strohecker

Its a shameyou want these guys to stay and you support them,and just like them being on the team but if they really like it hear why does it gotta be about money? If they invested right and they really love Pittsburgh then they will do what ever to stay.He has been with this team fro how many losing seasons to a better team that’s only going to get better.Stay Neil.


Why do so many people think athletes should accept less money to stay with a team? This does not happen much in any walk of life. On the other hand, the Pirates should not try harder to sign Neil Walker just because he’s a local.

Chris Hale

I understand the Walker situation. Why it’s going to be so hard to re-sign him but somebody mentioned the Andrew McCutchen situation down below. I hear on this site too often “why should we re-sign him now”, the player has x amount of years remaining. It’s the same with Cutch as it was with Walker a couple years ago. The closer he get’s to FA the more expensive that next contract is going to be and the less likely you are of signing him. I actually think we could extend Walker if we paid him market value for a couple years and then cut in half for the remaining years. Just like I think McCutchen understands the Pirates constraints. I’m almost positive he would take a few million less per year to stay in a Pirate uniform than he would command on the open market.

Chris Hale

I really don’t get the “injury prone” label Neil Walker gets on this site. in his first 4 FULL seasons he’s had no less than 530 PA. 2011-2014 662,530,551,571. That doesn’t seem like an “injury prone player”I’ve dealt with back strains and pulls. As long as there is no structural damage there’s really no long term problems. The two instances Walker was out for any kind of time were two totally different parts of the back and the other was a minor spasm that he rested for a few days and was back on the field. We have gigantic holes at corner IF spots in the system. Walker could be transitioned to either one of those spots. Harrison had one good season. I think he’s good but it’s fair to say he’s not going to hit 300+ yearly and he doesn’t have the power of NW. Josh Bell is the only prospect in the organization right now with any hope of playing everyday in a corner IF spot. Hopefully he becomes a power switch hitting 1st basemen but you never know. If Walker truly wants to be here and the Pirates want him here surely they can work something out that suits both sides.. You would think. I’d like to have the Switch hitting bat even after his prime in some sort of role. (at a reasonable price obviously)

Luke sutton

So did you use PA because games makes your argument look less strong? Walker has been able to play over 140 games only once in his career, and the issue is that he is entering years where players tend to see more injuries than less. Its great that you have handled back issues and not been hampered, but there are 2 things. 1) his situation requires a lot more stress on it than most of us, particularly since he plays games nearly every day for half the year. 2) history shows that in baseball, back injuries are high on the list of injuries than recur more than others.

We have a giant hole in the system….except for a quality SS who seems fine on both sides of the ball, a 3Bmen with limited starting time but in that time has shown the ability to be a very productive player, a backup SS/3B/2B men that is untested but with a ton of talent. And Hanson in the minors. IF isnt without depth, particularly up the middle.

Walker can want to be here and want to be paid near market price at the same time, since he hasnt ever gotten a chance to test FA. PIT can want Walker to stay but value his future production less than near market rates, and thats fair. Neither side has a large incentive to give a ton, since Walker is looking at his likely last big payday and PIT has enough options it can see replacing his future performance as doable for less than his 10+ million asking price. Fans talk a bunch before a player hits FA about how money isnt always most important to some players….and most players take a big paycheck.

Chris Hale

the least amount of games he’s played is 129. That was a season they shut him down in because they were out of contention after the had a historic collapse

Luke sutton

Right, so he isnt so injured that he is useless but you can pretty much guarantee he will miss time most years. You have to have a capable backup that can take over and play well.

DG Lewis

I think Tim should trade his student loans to a Yankees blog for a C+ website administrator and a beat writer to be named later.

Arik Florimonte

Package up Walker for Strasburg. Then after 2016 they can at least risk a Q.O. to Strasburg and get the pick if he declines. Looking ahead 2 years, I wouldn’t expect a QO for Walker.


One benefit to Walker, when he leaves, is that his declining years won’t be in a Pirates uniform, so there won’t be any ill will about injuries or sub-par play, and he’ll enjoy a better public image for it.


How many of Walker’s family and friends would it take to burn down PNC?

Mick Kraut

I am always saddened by the provincialism of Pittsburgh…

Bill Cowher leaves the Steelers? Russ Grimm is of course the best and only option…He’s from Scottdale and played at Pitt!
Jim Tracy fired! Ken Macha is the best choice, he’s from Murrysville!
John Russell fired! See above…
The Pirates should sign Matt Clement! He’s from Butler!

All logic and all reason leaves when the person is from Western Pennsylvania. Art Rooney wanted to draft Terry Hanratty over Mean Joe Greene in 1969 because Terry was an Irish Catholic kid from Pittsburgh…Noll won the argument but was Hanratty ended up a Steeler in the 2nd round of that draft…

The same holds for Neil Walker…He’s a good athlete and has performed well but isn’t the type of player that the Pirates should be signing long term due to age and injury history…but all many see is that he’s from Pine-Richland…

Oh well…it will never change…

Daryl Restly

Don’t forget the Pirates briefly had Terry Mulholland, who is from Uniontown, I believe.

Chris Hale

Besides the fact he won a silver slugger award and was recently ranked the #4 2nd basemen in baseball

John Winter

Letting Walker walk away without any sort of return would be a huge mistake, and he’s walking. Believe it. I just don’t see how he fits on this roster 4 years from now. Really can’t believe this is still a discussion.


Walker is a free agent after 2016 season

Clint Weiss

i’d rather he be traded next off-season, but if neither hanson/kang demonstrate they can start, keeping him for 2016 and making a QO isn’t the worst thing in the world… at least get a compensation pick, or alternatively a long shot at a top five 2b for one year at an acceptable salary.


If he stays health and Josh Bell doesn’t pan out, why couldn’t Walker be an option at first base 4 years from now?

Luke sutton

His power has to stick at the level it was at last year or his offense at 1B is more average than solid. A consistent 110-120 wRC+ puts him middle of the pack at 1B. Another year of 20+ HRs is really needed to love him at 1B for 10 million a year.

John Winter

He could be an option at first four years from now. An aging, fairly expensive, risky option that the Pirates should not be involved in. Neil’s great, love the guy, but unless he’s really healthy and making less than 10 mill, he’ll be a great guy somewhere else.


If the team is still a contender and he’s contributing enough to be a starter, I don’t see why the money matters that much. It’s not like they’d be breaking the bank. Sometimes you have to write the check.

I’m not the biggest fan of the guy. But if he’s still getting it done, why not? Sometimes I think we’re overly concerned about money. I’d agree with you if he wasn’t a good OBP guy.


In that time, the Bucs will have to do something with Cutch’s contract. They still haven’t signed Polanco to an extension…. which is going to have to come soon. Marte’s signed for 6-years, $31-million. I don’t know if anything needs to be done with him before that’s up. We’re still up-in-the-air about Pedro (although I can’t see a Boras client staying). I don’t know if the math will work out if Neil wants a payday. I don’t blame him if he does. And maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’d still like to see Bell or Lambo work out at 1B when Pedro’s gone. Or by some miracle, Pedro thrive and hit his potential — and stay!
I like Neil, but just don’t think he’s worth paying what he’ll want when Kang and Hansen are options. That latter obviously remains to be seen.


Neil’s hometown hero status is great for marketing purposes. But in terms of a pure talent evaluation he is the archtype for the type of player the Pirates will need to allow to leave, whether by trade or by playing out his arbitration years. By that I mean he is a B+/A- type of player as opposed to a A/A+ type of player. Let’s compare Neil’s career with Cutch’s. If Cutch continues his present career arc it will not be surprising, indeed certainly be expected, to see him enshrined in the Hall of Fame. If Neil continues his present career arc it would not be surprising, though a definite oversight, if Neil is never invited to an All Star Game. If somehow Cutch would take $25MM average per year for a multi year contract, a good argument could be made that the Pirates should spend that because of his elite status. It is hard to argue that Walker should be given $12 to $15MM per year because he has been a very good player because he is easily replaceable at a lower cost. What Walker can contribute should be largely replaced by the best of Harrison, Hansen or Kang. Actually, I think Kang will be Walker’s replacement at the plate, even if he plays SS or 3B instead of 2nd.

Chris Hale

easily replaceable ? huh ! Who and when was the last time a Pirate 2nd basemen hit 23 HRs. Try never. Who else on this team could we put in the 4 hole who can hit for a decent average and hit 23 Hrs. Let Neil Hit in the 4 spot with guys like Harrison,Polanco,Marte and McCutchen in front of him he can reach 90+ RBI. Who can you put there ?

Luke sutton

Walker hit 4th in 53 games last year, meaning the team played over 100 games without him there and was a top level offense in the league. Not that i dont appreciate how Walker is producing, but to act like without him we have issues is overstating it. Particularly since he hit .260 with 10 HRs in that spot, again not something you cant find similar production to.

Walker has been solid, and may have a few more solid years in him. But his defense makes moving him very needed, and his offense isnt good enough at a corner IF spot to warrant his upcoming paycheck unless he settles for less than market value…which he really hasnt shown signs of wanting. He has to replicate his career year in terms of wRC+ to be an above average 1Bmen…and age doesnt seem likely to help a player with his injury history. No trouble with appreciating what a player did while being aware of his limitations for future production.

Chris Hale

LOL Him hitting 10 Homers in only 53 games in the 4 hole just makes him look even better. Also, Moving to a corner where he wouldn’t have to count on his range as much would likely make him a better defender. He’s more athletic than most 1st basemen are so he could be a great defender there. Even if he moved to 3rd he would use less range.

Luke sutton

Right, moving him to the corners is needed because he doesnt have the range for the middle, but that doesnt equate to a great defender, you take A and assume adding B makes C. Moving him makes him a fine defender, but he still wont have great range and thus, not a “great” defender. Possibly above average? Sure, but at 1B that isnt what matters and we all know it. Saying he is more athletic than most 1Bmen is speculative at best since Walker isnt all that athletic, thus his shaky range at best.

The only way an argument of Walker at 1B being some great option holds backing is if those arguing it assume last year can be replicated, because if he slides back into his career levels of 110-120 wRC+ he is middle of the road on offense at 1B. Which if fine and useful but not at 10 million a year for a guy getting closer to his mid 30s. In fact, even his wRC+ of last year, a career best, puts him 9th among 1Bmen in the NL. He isnt bad on offense, he just isnt so great that he compares well to other 1Bmen.

NW is a fine player and absolutely useful in places…but the idea that he could move to 1B, be signed for additional years and bring back solid value doesnt have great statistical backing. His best offensive year would have seen him 9th in wRC+, 10th in OBP, 9th in SLG, 9th in OPS, 9th in wOBA, and 6th in WAR. He brings value, but not great value in comparison to his peers at 1B and will only see higher salary thanks to super 2 status one more time.

3B sees him 4-6 in most categories, but with the problem of Harrison being on roster and clearly getting his shot this year and Kang also getting reps to prove if he is real or dud. So Walker has the most value to the team currently at 2B, and going forward is more expensive than Harrison at 3B and good not great overall as a 1B option. Better than normal PIT options, but that aint hard to do when the options have been Ike Davis, Garret Jones, and Gaby Sanchez.

Chris Hale

corner IF’ers naturally have less range than MIF. Neil Walker is more athletic than most corner IF’ers especially 1st basemen. He would be one of the most athletic 1st basemen in baseball.He is less athletic than most MIF but he still plays average defense He’s played 3rd before and would be our 3rd basemen if they hadn’t drafted Pedro. They had a need at 2B and he filled it. They would actually be better off if Harrison played 2B and Walker played 3rd in the long run. I disagree with it but I’ve accepted they are going to lose Walker and they will not make that position swap at this point

Luke sutton

Its your opinion, and fair enough, that he is a super athletic guy…even at 1B. Yeah, he isnt overweight. But he isnt the most athletic 1Bmen in the bigs for me, because thats basically saying you think he would be a sure fire gold glover at 1B.


That’s not to say that I don’t really enjoy rooting for Neil and will miss him when he has to leave. It’s just that it will be in his personal best interest to work for another team that will be able to pay him more than the Pirates will. After he completes his career I hope he returns to Pittsburgh and buys some car dealerships so I can buy a car from him!


I continue to find it amusing that pretty much the only radio ad campaign featuring a Pirate is Neil (despite there being better players) being the spokesperson for Highmark, which more or less underscores Neil’s health issues.

Pittsburgh loves a hometown guy. I guess the locals can still hope for Jordan Steranka to blow up this year. And there’s still Eric Dorsch.

Chris Hale

That’s who people in Pittsburgh want to see and hear .He’s the perfect guy for it McCutchen can go on getting on the cover of video games and going on Ellen and Walker can do the local stuff.


You mean Allegheny Health? Why is this amusing to you?


1. Because Neil is the only one to do radio. Others have been on TV in cameos (and who thought Polanco + jewelry = success?) but not in speaking parts where they have to carry the ad. Very Pittsburgh.

2. Because when you think of Pirates getting hurt, you think of Neil Walker. When he went down again last year and they were still playing the ads, I know I wasn’t the only one thinking “and a lot of good your healthcare did him.”
3. That I didn’t recall who the ad was for makes it even more amusing.

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