The Case For Walker’s Extension

Right after the Andrew McCutchen extension in the spring, I posited that Neil Walker may be the next Pirate signed to a long-term extension.  There were some discussions between the two sides, but it has been suspected that the Pirates were leaning more towards a Jose Tabata-style of deal and Walker wanted to be paid on a more moderate scale.

That post was prior to the start of the 2012 season, so the only data points (excluding the cup of coffee in September 2009) were Walker’s 2010 (811 OPS, .351 wOBA, 118 wRC+, 2.0 WAR) and Walker’s 2011 (742 OPS, .322 wOBA, 103 wRC+, 3.0 WAR).  At this point in 2012, Walker is continuing to be an ascending asset for the Pirates with a 799 OPS, .369 wOBA, 120 wRC+, 3.0 WAR).  Among NL second basemen, Walker is ranked 2nd in wOBA, wRC+, and WAR behind only Aaron Hill.

Another positive trendline is Walker’s defensive rating by UZR.  To date in 2012, Walker is posting a positive 2.0.  He has turned himself from a liability in 2010 to a very competent 2B defensively.  Coupled with an above-average wOBA, Walker is an above-average 2B and a valuable commodity to the Pirates.

Within the post from this spring, I stated that the closest comparable to Walker at this point of his career was Ian Kinsler.  Going into his last pre-arbitration year, Kinsler signed a 5 year/$22M deal with an option for 2013.  However, that first year was only $500K; Walker will be a Super 2 player and get 4 cracks at arbitration.  With Walker already at 3.0 WAR, let’s conservatively say he will end with a 4.0 WAR, especially factoring in that he has been on a huge hot streak to get to these current numbers in 2012.  In his first two full seasons, Walker will have averaged 3.5 WAR.  On a crude $5M/WAR estimate, Walker would be a $17.5M player.  Using a 20-40-60-80% arbitration estimate for a Super 2 player, Walker could theoretically get $3.5M/$7M/$10.5M/$14M.

Those are some huge numbers that would total up to a 4 year/$35M contract.  That’s a lot and too much for the Pirates to tie up Walker.  That potential contract is comparable to Robinson Cano’s 4 year/$30M contract ($3M, $6M, $9M, $10M, plus $2M buyout on a option year).  At that point in his career, Cano was averaging 2.4 WAR, but coming off of a 4.9 WAR season.

Going back to Kinsler’s contract, he was paid $3M, $4M, $6M, and $7M in his four guaranteed years, with the last year being his 1st free agent year.  With some slight tweaking to the numbers, a half million here and a million there, that would be a very acceptable framework to me for Walker’s contract.

Walker is 26 in 2012, so at the end of his team control he would be in his age-30 season, still in his theoretical prime.  Add on an option year with a minimal buyout and you have a deal.  One of the arguments to not sign Walker is that 2B is not a position you want to lock up as you can always move a SS over to 2B.  I agree with that, but at this point the Pirates don’t have anyone in their system that is pushing Walker at all.  Even if you believe that Alen Hanson will eventually slide over to 2B, he is probably 3 years away from sniffing the majors.  There’s no crime in having a logjam of good players, with Walker having enough athleticism to slide back to 3B or the OF, if necessary.

Walker seems to be taken for granted by some Pirate fans.  But at this point in his career, Walker is an above-average starter and still ascending upward on his career path.  Establishing cost certainty on a key player for the Pirates will help the budget analysis moving forward for the front office.



About Kevin Creagh

Kevin Creagh resides in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and has been a Pirate fan since the mid 1980′s. Kevin joined Pirates Prospects in July 2010 and enjoys writing about the economic side of baseball decisions. Many of Kevin’s articles focus on the long-term decisions that the Pirates and other organizations may need to make in the future, in order to balance escalating player salaries with built-in payroll limitations. Kevin also enjoys following prospects throughout the Pirates’ minor league system and forecasting their potential to help the major league team.
  • Lee Young

    I’d love to see Walker get signed. I think the Bucs wanted to wait and see and have Walker completely prove himself. However, they should’ve signed him around Memorial Day. He’d have been REAL cheap then…lol

  • John Lease

    If it isn’t too expensive, sure. I just think there has been some bad blood between Neil and Huntington, and I wonder if that is going to make it more difficult.

  • James Conley

    This is a great read, but doesn’t take into account some sort of give-me-term-and-I’ll-give-you-money deal like Sidney Crosby received. Walker is a Pittsburgh product. How much that would inform his decision to stay in town (accepting more years and less money, for instance) I have no way of knowing without hearing from him directly. However, given the circumstances, it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

  • Daryl Restly

    Gotta agree…Pirates need to lock down James McDonald, Neil Walker and possibly Jeff Karstens. Bedard and Correia will be gone after this year. Next year you could possibly replace them with two of the lefties at AAA. Gerrit Cole likely will see a call up sometime next season. Who knows how Burnett is going to do next season, let alone the second half of this season. Pirates really need to think everything out. No way do I trade Marte…Pirates made the same mistake back in 1990 when they traded Moises Alou. A guy like him could have helped the Pirates immensely after Bonds left Pittsburgh. Do I think Marte’s ready for MLB, I don’t know. What I do know is that Justin Upton, Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, etc. are not superstar players. They are solid / slightly above average players who are only going to get more costly as time goes on. I would much rather the Pirates rely on players they’ve developed themselves. If there’s any position I think the Pirates need to improve at, it would have to be SS. I wouldn’t mind a Jed Lowrie type player or someone who could get on base consistently at the top of the line-up or even a guy who with two outs could get on base consistently out of the #8 spot in the line-up so that the pitcher could either extended the inning or that the leadoff hitter lead off the next inning.

  • Rory Sant

    I think if there was ever another candidate in baseball for a Tim Wakefield like Team renewable option, it would be Walker

  • Lee Young

    At the time Alou was traded, there was much doubt as to his potential. I remember folks comparing him to JESUS Alou. He turned out more like Felipe. Zane Smith won some big games for us. I’d do that trade again.

  • Steven Miller

    Kevin, well written article. I read Pirates Prospects a good bit and really appreciate the takes on the team. This article finally convinced me that the Pirates shouldn’t make a “big-splash” trade for someone like Upton. The team would benefit more by having money free to sign already-key players like Neil. I think we Pirates’ fans have forgotten that a good second baseman is a rare commodity. Most teams can say they have a “good” outfielder, and more than a few teams can say they have a great one–but only a handful can say they have a 2B who has above-average hitting and defense for the position.

    Also, when is Pedro due for a extension/re-signing/arby? I’ve heard nothing about his contract recently.

  • Tim Williams

    Actually, I didn’t write this article.

    To answer your question about Pedro, he’s due for arbitration in 2014.

  • Kevin_Creagh

    Thanks for liking the article. I’ll mention that to my e-boss, Tim. Tim and I have differing opinions on locking up Walker long-term.
    As for Pedro, with Boras as his agent, there won’t be a contract that buys out his free agent years. Boras likes to take his clients to free agency. I can think of less than 5 cases, the most bold being the Carlos Gonzalez contract.

  • Steven Miller

    Haha…I am so sorry! I assumed this was Tim for some reason (I think I had just read the “First Pitch” article from him and the name carried over in my head). The above post is now appropriately edited. I appreciate your writing too (obviously)–actually, that pretty much goes for this whole website’s worth of writing. Always thoughtful and pertinent for baseball.