Here’s a fun fact for you. There’s so much talk about the Mets and Yoenis Cespedes. About how Cespedes is so important to the Mets, about how the lineup can’t function without him. I’m not going to argue that Cespedes isn’t important. Great player! But if you look at last year’s Mets position players, the leader in WAR was Neil Walker. Only Noah Syndergaard had a higher WAR on the team, and Walker barely played two-thirds of the season.
So the Mets are probably pretty happy with the news that Walker has accepted their $17.2-million qualifying offer. Walker becomes the second of two players to accept the QO this offseason, joining Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson might be thinking ahead to a midsummer trade. Walker wants to win the World Series where he is.
The only reason we’re here is because Walker had back surgery. He’s a 31-year-old middle infielder with a brand new scar, and he didn’t play a game after August 27. If Walker had stayed healthy and kept up his performance, he would’ve had zero trouble finding three or even four guaranteed years. But things being what they were, Walker sensed the market would be more cautious. There’s not even great demand for second basemen in the first place, at least not among contenders, and Walker has a new red flag. It makes plenty of sense for him to take the money, and then look ahead to a healthy season, after which the QO system is likely to have been modified.
The surgery is the unknown here. I don’t know what we can reasonably be expected to make of it. I don’t know how Walker feels about his back. I don’t know how the Mets feel about his back. I assume the Mets wouldn’t have made the offer if they thought Walker might never play second base again. I have to think that Walker will resemble himself on the field. If he does, well, the last three years, he’s run a wRC+ of 120. That puts him around Nolan Arenado, Chris Davis, and Ben Zobrist. He’s not a baserunning plus, but he’s also not a baserunning minus, and he might be only a modest liability in the field. The numbers think last year he was actually quite good. The numbers kind of struggle to make sense of infields these days, with players constantly moving around, but Walker has played second almost exclusively. He can handle the position if he can move well enough.
If his back holds up, Walker will be okay. He’ll get his contract next season, after making more money than he’s ever seen in 2017. If his back doesn’t hold up, well, $17.2 million is a hell of a guarantee. By making the offer, the Mets acknowledged they think Walker will probably be fine. By taking the offer, Walker acknowledged the surgery would depress his market. There’s only one way for such a red flag to be lowered.
The Mets will presumably now turn their full attention to Cespedes and a reliever or three. They might never escape all the injury-related question marks, but perhaps next year those questions might have fewer negative answers.