At this point, there’s little point in expounding upon what an odd offseason it’s been for Major League free agents. Relievers got paid handsomely, the devaluation of bat-first corner players is more apparent than ever, and nearly 20 percent of MLBTR’s Top 50 free agents remain unsigned on March 5. Readers can choose whichever of the myriad explanations that’ve been presented this winter they prefer — the new CBA makes losing too appealing, Scott Boras’ waiting game, younger free offices valuing players near-identically, players overvaluing themselves — but the fact remains that it’s jarring to see so many quality names on the market. Chief among the surprising eye-opening reports that have surfaced regarding the remaining free agents, at least in my view, is Neil Walker is being offered minor league contracts. As many predicted earlier this winter, there have been some significant bargains in recent weeks — Carlos Gomez at $4MM to the Rays, Eduardo Nunez to the Red Sox at $8MM total (over two years with a player option) and Logan Morrison to the Twins at $6.5MM (plus a vesting option) — but those players were all at least rewarded with big league contracts and millions in guaranteed dollars. The notion of Neil Walker having to settle for a minor league contract seems utterly baffling. To be sure, he was hurt by a lack of teams seeking starting second basemen, but we’ve probably never seen a player with Walker’s track record have to take a non-guaranteed deal at just 32 years of age. Track Record Let’s be clear — Walker isn’t a star. He’s an above-average hitter on a yearly basis that has been generally below average in the eyes of defensive metrics for the better part of the past eight seasons. His glove isn’t a killer at second, but it rarely adds to his value, at least from a purely statistical standpoint. Walker has been remarkably consistent at the plate since establishing himself as a big league regular. Generally speaking, I don’t think citing career numbers is especially worthwhile when it comes to free agents; what a player did at age 24 isn’t really indicative of what he’s going to do in his 30s. But Walker’s level of consistency is fairly remarkable and is of some note. He’s hit between 12 and 23 homers per season, walked between 7.3 percent and 9.1 percent in every year but 2017 (when he jumped to 12.3 percent), and he’s never struck out at even a 20 percent clip. By measure of OPS+ and wRC+, he’s been 14 to 15 percent better than the league-average hitter over those eight years, and he’s never had a single season come in anywhere worse than six percent above-average. Clearly, I’m not the only one flabbergasted by the fact that Walker is seemingly struggling to find a big league offer; MLB.com’s Mike Petriello published a column on this exact same scenario earlier today. (Naturally, I was already well into this look at Walker’s perplexingly bleak market.) As Petriello points out, Walker is one of just six hitters in all of baseball from 2010-17 to post an OPS+ of 105 or better and 12-plus homers per season. The other five? Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, Robinson Cano, Adrian Beltre and Edwin Encarnacion. Not bad company.
The Lack Of A Market For Neil Walker Doesn’t Make Sense
MLB Trade Rumors | Mar 6