April 15, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) hits a two run home run against the St. Louis Cardinals during the third inning at PNC Park. The St. Louis Cardinals won 10-6. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Should The Pirates Extend Neil Walker's Contract?

Not yet. Unfortunately there’s a lot more to this question than that, so let’s look at it, starting with his recent numbers. Walker is struggling at the plate this year more than we’re used to, posting a triple slash of .240/.339/.336 and an OPS of .685. Some of this could be attributed to his hand injury which caused him to miss a fair chunk of time, but that’s not all there is to it. Walker seems somewhat lost at the plate, by the eye test he just appears less comfortable than he usually is (especially when he hits right handed, hitting a woeful .167).

While this a concern for the immediate good of the Pirates, they shouldn’t be overly concerned about Walker continuing to struggle like this all season, or into the long-term future. Before this, the lowest average Walker ever posted in a full season was .273, in 2011. His ability to hit is going to be there for a long time, despite his struggles so far this season. He’s never going to be Robinson Cano as a hitter, but how many second basemen really are? Walker is a good hitter for average, with solid gap power, especially for his position.

Walker as a defensive player at second base isn’t that good, nothing more than average at best. He’s posted a career .988 fielding percentage as a second baseman, which while nothing to sneeze at isn’t all the Pirates would like from him. His range is just normal. He has a good arm, but as far as covering a lot of ground defensively, he doesn’t do anything special. He has an occasional mental gaff or two as well, and while these don’t always register on the scorecard, there’s still one or two more than you’d like to see from a good/above average middle infielder. Overall, nothing to write home about, but not awful either.

Walker has above average career offensive numbers for his position, and he’s struggling some this year. He’s an average/below average defender at his position. He has produced very well in the past, but he’s struggling some this year at the plate. All of that’s important for the Pirates when it comes time for them to look at his contract, but the good news for the Pirates is that this isn’t the time to look at Walker’s contract. He’s arbitration eligible, but he won’t be a free agent until 2017.

He’s openly stated that he wants to be a career player for the Pirates franchise, even stating that he wants to be “The Cal Ripken of Pittsburgh” and while that sentiment may be a bit ambitious (Come on, it’s Cal Ripken), it’s a good sign for the Pirates. If Walker produces well over the rest of this year, as well as 2014-2016, there will be good reason to extend his contract. But right now? The Pirates need to keep rolling with Walker as he is right now, and let the contract situation come up when the time is right. This isn’t that time.

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