Attention Bob Nutting: The most popular Pittsburgh Pirates player since the likes of Andy Van Slyke and Willie Stargell is on your roster right now and he is worthy of a large contract extension. No, it is not reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen who is no doubt the most skilled player on the team. It is not prospect Gregory Polanco who fans have already anointed as a star despite him never playing a game at PNC Park. It is the Pittsburgh kid.
Neil Walker is face of the franchise locally and has become one of the more iconic sports figures in Pittsburgh. Yes, Andrew McCutchen is the star of the team, but the Pine Richland native Walker will always be the fan-favorite. A select few professional athletes are able to get onto the same pedestal that Walker finds himself on.
Currently Walker is regarded by Pittsburghers as being in the same class as Ben Roethlisberger, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and formerly Hines Ward. It has been quite some time since a Pirate joined the elite group of superstar Steelers and Penguins who have won championships for Pittsburgh. No, Walker has not won a championship, nor has he won any major accolades, but he is a lifelong Pirates fan from a suburb that is just a short 25-minute drive away from the ballpark.
Walker has long been a Pittsburgh icon, often getting elevated to superstar status despite being nothing more than a slightly above-average second baseman. This season though, Walker’s elevated play has raised his legend to a whole new level and there is reason to believe that this level of production from Walker could for the considerable future.
The 28 year-old leads all National League second basemen in home runs (10) and RBIs (32) coupled with a .279 batting average which gives Pirates fans a reason to smile. When the Pittsburgh Pirates are brought up in conversation on a national level Andrew McCutchen is the face of the franchise, however on the local level, without a doubt it is Neil Walker.
Walker has earned himself a long-term stabilizing contract that keeps him in a Pirates uniform for years to come. Yes, Walker will not be eligible for free agency until 2017 as the Pirates control him through arbitration, but it is not right to keep a player in limbo year-in and year-out.
This is not akin to the Pirates keeping Brian Giles around as he wasted his career away playing for some of the worst Pirates teams in franchise history. This is about a homegrown talent who wants to spend his career in Pittsburgh and the hometown team that should do everything possible to make that into a reality.
Neil Walker is having an all-star caliber season, he would command big money on the open-market, but he has said in the past that he will be generous to the Pirates in negotiations.
Bob Nutting, you have long been criticized for being a cheap owner, one who is not willing to spend the money necessary to win, you need to give Huntington the green light to get this deal done regardless of the price. The pain of seeing Neil Walker play anywhere else would arguably be greater than any pain fans had felt in recent years during the 20 straight losing seasons. Get this done!