I was trying to find the right way to approach the Neil Walker trade rumors in tonight’s article. Part of me wanted to write about the options for the Pirates if they did deal Walker. Part of me wanted to write about the fact that they’ve got a high asking price, and why they should have a high asking price for Walker.
I quickly realized that both topics are basically covered in the same article.
On the first subject, there really isn’t a good option to replace Walker. The current free agent market has guys like Daniel Murphy and Howie Kendrick, but they’re going to be more expensive, will require a longer commitment, will cost a draft pick, and have put up the same value as Walker in recent years. Beyond those two, there aren’t really any good options to replace Walker, unless the Pirates wanted to spend big on Ben Zobrist, which might be a good idea in 2016, but would probably be a horrible idea as he continues to get older.
The trade market could always offer a solution. This time last year no one was talking about Francisco Cervelli as the starting catcher in 2015. And the free agent market at catcher was weak beyond Russell Martin. So the situation is similar, and we’ll just have to wait and see if the Pirates would be looking for another sleeper via the trade market.
The internal solutions aren’t good, at least not in the short-term. Alen Hanson wasn’t trusted to be called up in September, so it would be hard to imagine him getting the job on Opening Day. That’s not a Super Two or service time issue either, as I don’t think Hanson would be around in the organization long enough for that to matter, considering all of the middle infield options the Pirates have in their system. Hanson showed great defensive skills at second base last year, but struggled with his consistency on offense. He’s also been a slow starter the last few years, and will need to do better in that regard before getting the second base job.
Max Moroff is one of the other middle infield options I mentioned as an alternative to Hanson. He had a big breakout in Altoona this year, and is looking like a future MLB player, with improving defense at second, great plate patience, and the ability to hit for some gap power. The best approach in the future might be a platoon role, with Hanson and Moroff splitting at second, and providing versatility off the bench. But neither will be ready at the start of the season, which is why the Pirates would need to look to the outside to replace Walker.
The answer to “who could replace Walker” isn’t a good one, and that answers the question of why the Pirates need such a big return for their second baseman — they still need him as their second baseman. Granted, his value comes mostly from offense, and the defense is poor. He’s not the best option in the future, thanks to their internal options. But he’s the best option right now, outside of an unforeseen trade option, and he’s valuable enough that it’s worth paying him the expected $10.7 M that he’d receive through arbitration.
Today’s trade rumor said that the talks with the Orioles quickly ended due to the high asking price for Walker. There are no details on that asking price. However, looking at Walker’s trade value, we can get an idea of what he’d be worth. At a 2.6 WAR and his $10.7 M expected salary, Walker would have a trade value of about $5 M. That’s worth a Grade B hitting prospect, or two young Grade C pitching prospects. The latter is basically what the Pirates received for Travis Snider, and you’d have to think Walker would command a little more.
Other impacts to the trade value include Walker’s potential to land a compensation pick next year. We just saw Murphy and Kendrick turn down their offers, and if they get the predicted deals of around $50 M guaranteed this off-season, then Walker would be a guarantee for a draft pick next year, as he would be able to fetch the same deal. Another impact is the current free agent market. A team that doesn’t want a long financial commitment might see Walker as more valuable, since he’s a one-and-done option, with some compensation possibly coming back at the end of the deal.
If Walker does get value added for a potential draft pick, then that adds a young Grade C pitching prospect to the above deals. That would be a Grade B hitter and a Grade C pitcher, or three Grade C pitchers, with all of the pitchers probably being in the lower levels like we saw with the Snider trade last year.
Like with any trade value, this is meant to provide a baseline. It’s possible that the Pirates are asking for more than this, and it’s possible that the Orioles would value Walker at a lower price. The reality about a potential Walker deal is that, no matter the replacement options, there comes a point where you’d have to deal him if the return was good enough. The fact that the Pirates are getting quickly shut down due to their high asking price is an encouraging sign that, if a deal is made, they will get a return that is good enough to justify dealing Walker. As for the replacement, the hope would be that they’ve got the second base version of Cervelli in mind.
On a side note, the first rumors connecting Travis Snider to the Orioles last year came on December 10th, during the Winter Meetings. The talks were declared dead at the time (Snider for Brian Matusz), and didn’t pick back up until a month later, when the deal quickly came together on January 27th. So based on how these two teams worked last year in the Snider deal, this may not be over.
**Pirates Have High Price For Neil Walker. Here’s the rumor on Walker.
**AFL: Brett McKinney Adds a New Pitch This Fall. Not much action in the AFL tonight, but a hard throwing reliever has been working on a new pitch.
**Neal Huntington on Off-Season, Glasnow, Bell, Kang, Happ, First Base, Watson. Huntington didn’t say much, with the most revealing thing being that they’d be comfortable with Tony Watson as the closer if Mark Melancon was traded.
**Winter Leagues: Carlos Munoz Homers, Rivera Released by Pirates. Another big game for Carlos Munoz, who almost seems certain to be the starting first baseman for West Virginia next year. That would be a big test for his chances of being a real prospect.