Monday, April 2, 2012

The Case For Neil Walker's Extension

With Andrew McCutchen's extension finalized last month, the attention has turned to Neil Walker to be the next Pirate extended. Oddly though, there has been some blowback from the online Pirate community about the wisdom of such a move. It has gone so far in some articles as to say that if Neil Walker was not from Pittsburgh there wouldn't be much interest in extending him.

That doesn't make any sense to me, especially once you look at Walker's stats objectively.

In 2011, Walker's triple slash line was .273/.334/.408 (742 OPS) for a 103 OPS+, indicating he was 3% better than league average. His weighted on-base average was .322, which placed him 9th out of 19 2B with at least 500 plate appearances in all of MLB.

Walker's defense was slightly below average with a -2.5 UZR/150. Coupled with his offensive output, this gave Walker a WAR of 3.0 last year (2.0 is considered league average).

Considering that Walker is playing 2012 at age 26, still on the cusp of the presumed prime years for a baseball player, it sure seems like an extension would be great for all sides. Slightly complicating the extension proposition is that Walker will be a Super 2 eligible player next year, meaning he gets 4 cracks at arbitration instead of the usual 3, but it's not impossible.

I'm proposing an extension similar to the one that Ian Kinsler signed back in 2008, but not adjusted much for inflation, due to the fact that Kinsler is a far superior offensive player than Walker at this point. Kinsler's extension was 5 years for $22M with a club option for 2013 for $10M. It breaks down like this:
2008 - $500K
2009 - $3M
2010 - $4M
2011 - $6M
2012 - $7M
2013 - $10M option

Walker's could look something like this:
2012 - $500K (plus a $500K signing bonus)
2013 - $2.5M
2014 - $4M
2015 - $6M
2016 - $8M
2017 - $10M option

That's 5 years for $21.5M, with a $10M option at the end. Hardly on the same level of commitment as McCutchen's 6 year/$51.5M extension, but you lock up another key player and continue to show the fanbase that you are serious about this core group.

Walker is still learning and improving the position as he enters into his prime years. He is already a 3.0 WAR player; if he can improve to a 4.0 WAR player with a modicum of offensive improvement and average defensive posture, that is a very valuable commodity that shouldn't be dismissed so easily.

The critics say that 2B is the easiest position to fill. And they're right. Most 2B are failed SS that don't have the range and/or arm to fill the position, so they slide to the left of the bag. But I'm a firm believer in "a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush". If and when the Pirates have a player show they are ready, both offensively and defensively, to replace Walker then the discussion can happen. Walker has already proved that he can handle 3B defensively. His bat wouldn't play as well there, but it wouldn't be crippling. He is also a good enough athlete to handle some OF duty, as well.

In short, Walker should continue to improve for the next 3 years at least. Even if he stays at the same level, he is a valuable commodity for the salaries proposed above. Perhaps the $8M proposed for his last arbitration year may prove unwise, but that's the benefit of locking him down for some lower-than-expected arb-1 and 2 salaries.

Walker should be extended at a reasonable contract similar to the one I've proposed. After Walker though, I don't see any current Pirates that would warrant an extension, so his may be the last one for a while.


  1. While I don't totally agree with you this is a nice writeup. Post the link on the OnlyBucs. The place is dying a slow death without you, Tim, Wilbur and especially Omar.

    1. You are more than welcome to post the link on OBN. Thanks for the kind words. Sorry to hear that about OBN, but the mods made a decision about the direction of the board a while ago.

  2. Until I hear of the opening of a "Neil Walker Academy For Children Who Can't Play Baseball Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too" on Mexican War Street, and it starts to drown the Golden Triangle in as yet untapped, local Western, PA baseball prosepcts, I will continue to consider him overrated.