Neil Walker’s tenure in Pittsburgh will end after 2016 season


Neil Walker has been warmly cradled into the bosom of the City of Pittsburgh since his first Major League call-up on Sept. 1, 2009.  Not only is he the fan favorite at PNC Park, he is a total embodiment of the city itself.

He was born in Pittsburgh.  His #24 baseball jersey is retired from Pine Richland, his alma mater in Pittsburgh.  In fact, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates right out of that high school and he’s been with the organization ever since.  In addition, he plays every game hard with the same dogged, blue collar mentality that the fans in Pittsburgh eat up by the trough.

Everyone likes Neil Walker, including myself.

And how could you not?  He is just about as organic a prospect as you could possibly ever dream to have.  His nickname is the Pittsburgh Kid for goodness sake.  So why is it even conceivable that he wouldn’t get a new contract, play eight more years, and eventually retire a Pittsburgh Pirate?

Because the “Neal” responsible for ensuring that happens isn’t Neil Walker.  It’s Neal Huntington.

More from Rum Bunter

And what do we know about Neal Huntington when it comes to signing long-term contracts?  The golden rule that he follows is that he will not under any circumstance invest an amount over what he perceives to be market value for that individual.  Especially if the late and often most expensive years of that contract coincide with the likelihood of reduced production due to the age of that individual.


In layman’s terms:  He will never enter into a contract with Neil Walker that is going to pay him $10 to 15 million in 2020 when his production on the field at that point is worth half that amount (or less).  And the bottom line is, unfortunately for all of us, some other team will.

Neil Walker will be 35 years old at the end of the 2020 season. Do you know how many 35-year-old second basemen played in the Major Leagues last year? Go ahead. Take a guess.

One.  Chase Utley.

How about 34-year-old second basemen?  I’m sure there were plenty of those out there right?

Try zero. That’s right. None.

In fact, there were only three players at second base age 33 that played any significant time at the position (Ben Zobrist, Brandon Phillips and Omar Infante) and only three 32-year-olds played second and had more than 255 at-bats at the position last year.  (Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler and Aaron Hill).

Do you catch my drift here?

Walker hasn’t played a full season of baseball since 2011 where he played 159 games.  Each of the last three years, he has battled injuries that have led to him missing time on the diamond.  He only missed 29 games in 2013 but that was because he stubbornly played through injuries pretty much the entire year.  He should have missed more.

Whether it’s been a herniated disc, a bum wrist or an appendectomy, Walker has been nibbled on by the injury bug just about every year he’s been in the majors.  And that number doesn’t generally improve with age.

So do you really think that Neal Huntington is going to sign him to a five-year, $50 to 60 million contract extension that could take effect literally on the eve of his 31st birthday?

If you said yes, prepare to be disappointed.

Huntington will never sign Walker to a deal that will pay him $10 to 15 million in 2020 when his production on the field at that point is worth half that amount (or less).

Knowing that Huntington has to operate within the budget he is given, the absolute best deal Neil Walker could ask for coming out of this current Pirate leadership is a three-year extension going through the 2019 season for somewhere in the ballpark of $25 to 30 million.

Unless Walker is in the mood for giving massive hometown “Pittsburgh Kid” discounts, he probably won’t take it. If he’s able to duplicate the effort he had last year, there will be another team like the Toronto Blue Jays – a la Russell Martin – that will give him the five-year deal that he wants at the end of 2016. But it won’t be the Pirates, and honestly, it shouldn’t be the Pirates.

With the limited budget that Huntington has to work with, it is imperative that he allocates dollars to keeping players through the prime of their careers as opposed to tying up bucks on veterans that have a statistical probability of regressing as they get into their 30s.  Sorry folks.  That’s just the facts.

My best guess is that unless the two sides can come to terms on a team-friendly extension by the end of this season, I would not be surprised if trade rumors started buzzing around Pittsburgh with the Pittsburgh Kid being in the center.

Prospects anyone?

Next: Op-ed: Pirates' Neil Walker deserves a contract extension