Neil Walker deserves – and should be given – an extension
By Jake Misener
No matter what Neil Walker does, he never seems to get the recognition he warrants.
Despite the fact that he hit a walk-off homer against the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day – the first of a career-high 23 bombs on the year, won a Silver Slugger award and led the Pittsburgh Pirates to a second-straight postseason appearance, the talk heading into camp in Florida is all about Korean slugger Jung-ho Kang.
The KBO star led the league last year with 40 home runs – but whether or not he can transition smoothly to the big leagues remain to be seen. Some projections have him barely hitting his weight while other suggest he could be a Rookie of the Year candidate. But that’s neither here nor there; this is about the hometown kid – not the latest craze.
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In 2004, the Pirates took Walker with a first-round pick – and since then, he’s grown into one of the top offensive second basemen in all of Major League Baseball. Last season, he led all big league second basemen in home runs – even trumping Seattle Mariners star Robinson Cano, who hit just 14 long-balls.
Oh, and not to mention the fact that Seattle paid Cano $24 million while the Bucs doled out a paltry $5.75 million to Walker.
The Pittsburgh second baseman is set to earn $8 million this season after losing his arbitration case earlier in February – still coming in at a mere one-third of the cost of the Mariners’ face of the franchise.
Walker posted an impressive 3.6 WAR in 2014, all the while inching closer to free agency – which is dangerous for the Pirates. A notoriously low-budget team, Pittsburgh could be nearing a run-in that leaves them between locking up a budding star and keeping their finances in order.
Earlier this offseason, the team and Walker had what were described as ‘preliminary discussions’ regarding a contract extension, but nothing substantive came from the talks. At the time, Huntington stressed the importance of keeping the team’s second baseman in the Steel City long-term.
"We would like nothing more than to have Neil Walker end his career as a Pirate. There’s no question about that. We understand he’s a really good player, and we understand the local implications and local ties he has.For comparable numbers, let’s take a look at another fan favorite – Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is locked up through 2021 on a major hometown discount deal of a mere $55 million spread over seven years.Over the last three years, let’s examine the numbers of these two middle infielders:[table id=1 /]It seems far-fetched to mention Pedroia and Walker in the same breath, but the simple truth is this: the two are more similar than the casual fan may think. And with that in mind, Pirates fans should be terrified. If their second baseman hits the open market after the 2016 season, he may very well price himself out of Pittsburgh.The biggest free agent deal in organization history came this offseason when the Pirates gave Francisco Liriano a three-year, $39 million deal. With one more good season – as has been the trend in recent years – Walker could very well net himself a $50-plus million contract on the open market.Now is the time for Huntington and the Pittsburgh front office to sit down with Walker and his camp and hammer out a deal. Another quality season of 20+ home runs and decent overall numbers at the dish could be enough to spell the end of his time in Pittsburgh.Let’s make a deal, Neal. Let’s make a deal.Next: Corey Hart could be a bounceback candidate in 2015 We would like nothing more than to have Neil Walker end his career as a Pirate. There’s no question about that. We understand he’s a really good player, and we understand the local implications and local ties he has."