First Pitch: What is the Right Price For Neil Walker?

I was trying to find the right way to approach the Neil Walker trade rumors in tonight’s article. Part of me wanted to write about the options for the Pirates if they did deal Walker. Part of me wanted to write about the fact that they’ve got a high asking price, and why they should have a high asking price for Walker.

I quickly realized that both topics are basically covered in the same article.

On the first subject, there really isn’t a good option to replace Walker. The current free agent market has guys like Daniel Murphy and Howie Kendrick, but they’re going to be more expensive, will require a longer commitment, will cost a draft pick, and have put up the same value as Walker in recent years. Beyond those two, there aren’t really any good options to replace Walker, unless the Pirates wanted to spend big on Ben Zobrist, which might be a good idea in 2016, but would probably be a horrible idea as he continues to get older.

The trade market could always offer a solution. This time last year no one was talking about Francisco Cervelli as the starting catcher in 2015. And the free agent market at catcher was weak beyond Russell Martin. So the situation is similar, and we’ll just have to wait and see if the Pirates would be looking for another sleeper via the trade market.

The internal solutions aren’t good, at least not in the short-term. Alen Hanson wasn’t trusted to be called up in September, so it would be hard to imagine him getting the job on Opening Day. That’s not a Super Two or service time issue either, as I don’t think Hanson would be around in the organization long enough for that to matter, considering all of the middle infield options the Pirates have in their system. Hanson showed great defensive skills at second base last year, but struggled with his consistency on offense. He’s also been a slow starter the last few years, and will need to do better in that regard before getting the second base job.

Max Moroff is one of the other middle infield options I mentioned as an alternative to Hanson. He had a big breakout in Altoona this year, and is looking like a future MLB player, with improving defense at second, great plate patience, and the ability to hit for some gap power. The best approach in the future might be a platoon role, with Hanson and Moroff splitting at second, and providing versatility off the bench. But neither will be ready at the start of the season, which is why the Pirates would need to look to the outside to replace Walker.

The answer to “who could replace Walker” isn’t a good one, and that answers the question of why the Pirates need such a big return for their second baseman — they still need him as their second baseman. Granted, his value comes mostly from offense, and the defense is poor. He’s not the best option in the future, thanks to their internal options. But he’s the best option right now, outside of an unforeseen trade option, and he’s valuable enough that it’s worth paying him the expected $10.7 M that he’d receive through arbitration.

Today’s trade rumor said that the talks with the Orioles quickly ended due to the high asking price for Walker. There are no details on that asking price. However, looking at Walker’s trade value, we can get an idea of what he’d be worth. At a 2.6 WAR and his $10.7 M expected salary, Walker would have a trade value of about $5 M. That’s worth a Grade B hitting prospect, or two young Grade C pitching prospects. The latter is basically what the Pirates received for Travis Snider, and you’d have to think Walker would command a little more.

Other impacts to the trade value include Walker’s potential to land a compensation pick next year. We just saw Murphy and Kendrick turn down their offers, and if they get the predicted deals of around $50 M guaranteed this off-season, then Walker would be a guarantee for a draft pick next year, as he would be able to fetch the same deal. Another impact is the current free agent market. A team that doesn’t want a long financial commitment might see Walker as more valuable, since he’s a one-and-done option, with some compensation possibly coming back at the end of the deal.

If Walker does get value added for a potential draft pick, then that adds a young Grade C pitching prospect to the above deals. That would be a Grade B hitter and a Grade C pitcher, or three Grade C pitchers, with all of the pitchers probably being in the lower levels like we saw with the Snider trade last year.

Like with any trade value, this is meant to provide a baseline. It’s possible that the Pirates are asking for more than this, and it’s possible that the Orioles would value Walker at a lower price. The reality about a potential Walker deal is that, no matter the replacement options, there comes a point where you’d have to deal him if the return was good enough. The fact that the Pirates are getting quickly shut down due to their high asking price is an encouraging sign that, if a deal is made, they will get a return that is good enough to justify dealing Walker. As for the replacement, the hope would be that they’ve got the second base version of Cervelli in mind.

On a side note, the first rumors connecting Travis Snider to the Orioles last year came on December 10th, during the Winter Meetings. The talks were declared dead at the time (Snider for Brian Matusz), and didn’t pick back up until a month later, when the deal quickly came together on January 27th. So based on how these two teams worked last year in the Snider deal, this may not be over.

**Pirates Have High Price For Neil Walker. Here’s the rumor on Walker.

**AFL: Brett McKinney Adds a New Pitch This Fall. Not much action in the AFL tonight, but a hard throwing reliever has been working on a new pitch.

**Neal Huntington on Off-Season, Glasnow, Bell, Kang, Happ, First Base, Watson. Huntington didn’t say much, with the most revealing thing being that they’d be comfortable with Tony Watson as the closer if Mark Melancon was traded.

**Winter Leagues: Carlos Munoz Homers, Rivera Released by Pirates. Another big game for Carlos Munoz, who almost seems certain to be the starting first baseman for West Virginia next year. That would be a big test for his chances of being a real prospect.

  • Assuming Walker stays…

    Should the Pirates make a QO ($16.3M ish) next year?
    Should Walker accept it?
    Should the Pirates worry that he might accept it?

    My answers: I don’t know, Yes, and maybe.

    • Yes.
      Absolutely not.

      Again, there is no such thing as a bad one year contract. The Front Office acts like the organization will go insolvent at the mere chance of going over budget for one year. That is just silly.

      Huntington has blown tens of millions of dollars on the Corey Hart’s and Rod Barajas’s of the world. Spending an extra $4-5m on a 2-win player like Walker should be the leats of their worries.

    • Yes. He’s the same value as Daniel Murphy and Howie Kendrick, who both received and rejected offers.

      No. Walker would get much more guaranteed on the open market.

      No. See above.

  • “You get clubs that are hungry, and they get out aggressively after players, and by nature of the game, any time you sign a free agent, you’ve overspent. You’ve overspent everybody else in the industry.”

    Complete, utter, bullsh*t.

    Add in the garbage about paying your closer 10% of payroll, and I’m seriously disappointed at the regressive tone Huntington has given this winter. We’re apparently back to 2011.

    • Where is this quote from? Assuming NH?

      It sounds like the auction paradox… if you win an auction by definition you’ve overpaid, because you paid more than anyone else was willing to. But if you don’t bid you never get anything.

      I wouldn’t read too much into it, given that the Pirates have signed free agents before, there is no reason to believe they won’t again. I think this just highlights that they think the best values come later after the other teams overspend.

      • Except that literally every one of Huntington’s best signings has been early.

        Russ Martin, Liriano(x2).

        Yes, that’s NH. I know I shouldn’t get worked up about GM speak, but this goes further. These aren’t cliches and platitudes, this represents a specific train of thought, and it reeks of being the smartest guy in the room. I don’t know if it comes from him not being given resources, or a natural fear of making a mistake, but my goodness.

        For one, if you trust your valuation and get the player you want you’ve done your job! Period. Improved the team with resources you were comfortable giving up. End of story. To think that he is worried about doing that for a few extra million bucks is beyond insane to me.

        Second, that closer talk is exactly what we heard leading into 2013 except that Melancon is still good and the team should have at least an extra $30m to work with. You *absolutely* can pay a closer 10% of your payroll when the remainder gives you at least $90m to spread between the same number of players. This isn’t a debate. It can be done, rather easily.

  • -From Rich Kubato’s article”

    “I heard a few weeks ago that the Orioles had some interest in Pirates infielder Neil Walker and were checking whether he might be non-tendered. As it turns out, they took it a step further and engaged in trade talks during the general managers meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.

    I’m told that nothing came of it, with the Pirates apparently seeking more than the Orioles were willing to surrender and Walker figures to be tendered a contract as a Super Two in his final year before reaching free agency.”

    This is what I was talking about re: trading potential non-tenders. Teams smell blood in the water and will call the Pirates bluff if they think the player will be non-tendered. Very hard to get any value there may be in a guy when a team isn’t convinced that they’ll be able to freely sign him as a free agent in a matter of weeks.

    -The comments in the Kubatko article are pure fire.

    -Given the Orioles have few pitching prospects after Hunter Harvey, who is way too good, I wonder if Huntington is going after Kevin Gausman? O’s seem to be butchering his development like so many of there other pitchers and could be losing patience as they did with Arrieta. I’d shovel NH’s driveway with a spoon if he could pull off that steal.

    • There’s zero chance NW will be non-tendered.

      • And what does it say about perceptions of the Pirates organization that the Orioles were even questioning?

        • I don’t follow what you mean…

        • And that’s a pretty big jump from 2 beat writers’ (Biertempfel and the Baltimore Sun) assumptions according to “sources” to what the Orioles actual perception is about the Pirates organization.

          • It’s a big jump to assume the Pittsburgh Pirates may balk at tendering a player projected to make $10m? Oh, okay.

    • The Orioles it seems, have not developed pitchers since the 70’s. Look at Bundy’s early call up.

  • The main value in trading Walker (which I have mixed feelings about) is the $10.7M it would free up for a free agent. So I’d look at it as Walker bringing back a prospect(s) _and_ a FA pitcher.

    The deal itself wouldn’t likely look good, but if it comes with signing, say, Happ, then it could make a lot of sense.

    • The myth of the Walker OR pitcher decision continues…

      • They can afford both

      • It doesn’t have to be OR, but we also know that we have some cap near $100M on payroll. It forces the question of whether Walker’s $10.7M could be better spent elsewhere. I think it can, but it may not be necessary if we clear payroll space by dealing Melancon and/or Alvarez.

      • NMR, it’s a myth only because we don’t have access to the Pirates’ financials. All we have to go on are historical payrolls, and their highest opening day payroll was approximately $90 million last year. See: Their payroll was above $100 million at the end of the year, and they are sitting at $101 million with 6 roster spots open: Those are the most concrete numbers we can go with. We can’t assume they can afford more, because they have never gone any higher. I know we all WANT them to sign impact free agents, but saying they CAN afford Walker and a decent free agent SP is pure speculation, with only a limited basis to support it.

        • But we can use common sense.

        • I HOPE, the Pirates’ payroll would be $110-120m this year. And before you all start laughing, Forbes has them making $45m last year and i don’t think they spent the big raise they got from TV. St. Louis is probably going to go up to $140m and you know Chicago has the money for Price, so Pittsburgh has to keep up. Finding ballplayers cheap is going to get old at some point. Check out the team the bucs tried to emulate, Tampa Bay.

          • Regardless of what it is, we know they’ll leave some room to add payroll during the season. So if it is $110M, then the Opening Day payroll will likely be something below $100M.

            That would seem unnecessary this year with the depth we have in AAA (Glasnow, Taillon, Bell, …) but we thought we had a lot of depth last year yet needed to add Happ, Soria, and Morse at the deadline.

          • And before folks rightfully come back with “LOL Forbes”, I’ll head that off by saying this…don’t even focus on the exact numbers in the Forbes report. They certainly aren’t correct.

            But ask yourself how far they’d have to be off in order *not* to assume that the Pirates made very good money last year. Being off by 75% means the club *still* cleared eight figures, and their debt ratio is in the bottom third of the league.

            We know this management team is financially conservative, and I don’t say that in a bad way. I say that as evidence backing my assumption that there’s a hell of a chance they don’t go into each year with aggressive revenue projections, which they realistically should have blown past with recent attendance and ticket price increases.

            We’re not talking about enough money to leverage a ten year, $250m mega deal. We’re talking about modest increases to keep one year contracts. The Pirates *absolutely* have the money to do that.

            • Completely 100% agree with this…regardless if the numbers are accurate or not isnt the point. The Pirates are one of the more profitable teams in baseball. If there is inaccuracy, it applies to every team in their report. The fact wouldnt change where they stand as far as their profitability goes however.

              I think for them they are very concerned that despite what their revenue projections may be based on the past year’s precedence, that somehow if the team doesnt pan out well this year, and revenues arent as high, they dont want to be in a position where they overspent and wont be as profitable or not be profitable at all for 2016. They would rather spend a bit more at the deadline when the cash has already come in and they can count on having a contender down the stretch to bring in the crowds and possibly bring some playoff revenue.

              They want to win, no question, but theyre very conservative business people and arent going to take many financial risks to do so. But yes, they could easily afford to have a payroll around 110-120. Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Kansas City…all teams of similar market size have spent upwards of that amount over recent years.

              For 2015:

              Kansas City spent $125 million
              Baltimore spent $117 million
              Cincinnati spent $114 million
              Pittsburgh spent $99 million
              Milwaukee spent $94 million

              Milwaukee cut payroll at the deadline, they sold off several players and only were out spent by the Pirates by 5 million, while the Pirates added several players. The year previous for the Brewers when they were in contention (2014) spent $112 million.

              This area of spending is where the Pirates need to be frankly.

              • I think that’s also a great point regarding the *relative* accuracy of these numbers.

                I’ll reiterate that I don’t bring this up to pile on the “NUTTINGZ CHEAP” crowd, not even close. I also don’t say this to definitively judge the off season when it has barely started.

                But this is setting up to be a series of unforced errors. Moves that didn’t have to be made and don’t necessarily bring worthwhile value or flexibility, that could easily detract from a very good ball club competing in an even tougher division.

                Now is not the time to act like the smartest guy in the room.

  • Tim,

    Can you expand on the following sentences: “At a 2.6 WAR and his $10.7 M expected salary, Walker would have a trade value of about $5 M”? In particular, I’d like to know how you got to $5M and how that translates to a Grade B hitting prospect or two young Grade C pitching prospects.

    I’m still trying to understand valuation.


    • Hi Kletz,
      Tim often works under the assumption that 1 WAR is worth approximately $6M on the open market. This would put Walker’s value over and above his contract at 2.6 X $6M – $10.7M, which totals $4.9M, or as Tim stated, roughly $5M in trade value.
      I hope this helps!

    • Not sure why Tim tries to predict trade value from players. Players are worth what the opposing GM thinks they’re worth….Not some formula that Tim came up with, it’s a preposterous notion.

      • So the alternative article would go “hey, we heard speculation about this trade. Rather than maybe attempt to show money value/excess value based in his production and contract in a not supposed to be 100% accurate way, who knows!”.

        That’d be fun all offseason.

      • From this article:

        “Like with any trade value, this is meant to provide a baseline. It’s possible that the Pirates are asking for more than this, and it’s possible that the Orioles would value Walker at a lower price.”

        Also, I didn’t come up with this formula. It stemmed from Victor Wang’s research. The same Victor Wang that now works in the front office of the Cleveland Indians. And since the formula is a simple WAR * $6 M – Salary, it’s not exactly going against any evaluation trends.

    • The rough formula is WAR * $6 M – Salary. Each WAR is valued at $6 M on the open market, so you determine the player’s overall value by multiplying his expected WAR by that figure. Then you subtract his salary to get his trade value.

      It basically shows the value a player has exceeding what a team could get on the open market. If you can get a 2 WAR player for $12 M a year on the open market, and you can get that same 2 WAR player for $8 M in a trade, then the trade option would have an additional $4 M in value over the free agent. Thus, the team acquiring him would be giving up prospects instead of extra money to sign the comparable free agent.

      As for the prospect values, we covered that here:

  • If Neil Walker is traded. I think one solution is moving Josh Harrison to 2nd and sign Juan Uribe as a stop gap for 3rd until Kang is ready. Uribe would be a good guy off the bench.

    • That’s a pretty good idea if they could get uribe on cheap deal. I assume his defense should still be well above average.

  • If we don’t have better options and trade him it’s the same old Pirates. I have been dreading this time due to the realization that no matter how many attendance records they set they will always operate like they are broke. With all the money flowing around baseball, there is no reason they can’t keep him and make the qualifying offer to get the draft pick themselves.

  • Just assuming for a minute that Walker is dealt – there is still a possibility that Alvarez slides back to third, Mercer at SS, and Harrison is at Second with Morse at first.
    Hanson can easily become the flexible infielder with time at most all the infield and some outfield ability as well which is probably the best introduction for him to the bigs anyway.
    Moving Walker now isn’t a priority though as I’d be inclined to keep him, offer QO, and take the compensatory pick – unless you get that quality of a player back or better.

    • I think that they would cringe if Walker accepts a QO at the end of next season. It will be $16 million or higher.

    • Alvarez has played his last game at 3B for the Pirates….If Walker comes back and has a similar year as his past few, he would be nuts to turn down a QO.

    • You lost me at Alvarez to third

    • Alverez does less harm at third than at 1st. That’s not a bad idea. Then with Harrison at 2nd. Hopefully Kang will make a full recovery.

  • I still like the idea of Asdrubal Cabrera as a free agent SS (Ideally for say 3 years/$9 million each). Trade Walker. Move Harrison to 2B. Put Mercer at 3B until Kang’s return. That settles 2016 and we have ton of 2B depth (Hanson, Moroff, Frazier) but no SS depth until about 2019

    • Mercer can’t be an option for 3b. If he doesn’t start hitting he might not be an option for ss much longer. Even with very good defense he was only worth .5 war last year because his bat was so anemic.

    • Defensive metrics have Mercer as the better SS. I’d just as soon go with Ngoepe at SS or Hanson at 2B until Kang gets back. We’d be giving up some offense but would have a stronger defense.

      • Giving up a ton of offense. Even if you are way down on Mercer’s offense, Gift would be a large downgrade. He’d be well overmatched against ML pitching.

  • I really think the best option for the Bucs moving forward for the season is to keep Walker unless they are blown away with an offer. The alternatives are really just unappealing.

    • ‘Blown away’ is relative.

      For a guy a year away from leaving the team (for no compensation) who probably contributes slightly higher than his salary, but for a team that requires value…what does ‘blown away’ mean?

      I’d say if the Pirates got two guys, less than 1.5 years off, that can contribute between the levels of Harrison and Mercer…and, add to that, one low minors #4 projected pitcher…that would be fair. Anything more, in my book, is blown away.

    • Good points. To get blown away, NH has to find that one trading partner that is willing to trade something of value – much more than the trading value of $5 mil, and much more than the return received for Travis Snider. The Orioles were doing nothing more than kicking the tires. Walker is not as much of a “needed trade” as a few others entering their final year.