Jon Morosi had the first Pirates free agent rumor of the offseason this afternoon, saying that the team is interested in bringing back Neil Walker, who is currently a free agent.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 15, 2017
Morosi notes that the situation with Jung Ho Kang has the team looking at infield options. That makes sense, as I don’t think anyone should expect Kang to return, and the Pirates need an everyday third baseman, as David Freese isn’t an option. The idea of bringing Walker back does bring up a lot of questions about the direction of the team, and how the infield would be constructed.
First, there’s the question of whether the Pirates will be buyers and try to contend in 2018, or be sellers and go for a rebuild. Those aren’t the only two options. They could try to find a middle ground, although that’s an approach that hasn’t worked for them the last few years, and one that I don’t think will work for them going forward.
If they are looking at guys like Walker, then it means they’re looking to add in some form. The team currently has a projected payroll of just under $100 M, so if they’re adding, it means they will either be raising payroll, or they’ll be off-setting that by trading away other players.
Right now, the infield is expensive. Josh Harrison is making $10 M as the starting second baseman. David Freese is making $4.25 M, and would likely be on the bench if someone else is brought in. Sean Rodriguez is making $5 M, and the Pirates just traded for him to be an option in 2018. You already have about $20 M invested in one starter spot and two bench spots, and that’s before adding Walker. My guess is that if they do shed salary, it would come from this group.
I think Freese makes the most sense out of the group. He can’t be a starter option, and is limited to third base or first base. The Pirates would theoretically have third base covered if Walker comes in, with my guess being that someone like Harrison would shift over to that position, with Walker at second. I know Walker was a third baseman in the past, but when the Pirates had both Harrison and Walker as starters in the past, this was the formation they went with.
I’d also hesitate to say that they would trade Harrison and replace him with Walker, since that’s the exact opposite of the move they made two years ago. Harrison was more valuable than Walker last year, and is more durable at this stage in their careers. It wouldn’t make sense for the Pirates to reverse their decision on who they would rather have, since it now looks like Harrison is the better choice over Walker. It would make more sense to imagine they’re bringing in Walker with the idea that he and Harrison would both start.
This is all speculation though on a rumor that says the Pirates only have “some interest” in Walker. It’s jumping the gun a bit to start looking at the dominoes that would fall after a Walker move, since there is no sign that a Walker move is close, or even something that could happen at all.
But we currently have no information on what direction the Pirates are headed this year. They’re stuck in No-Man’s Land, not a strong contender, but with enough of a shot that they’re not destined to rebuild. Their payroll has topped off at just over $100 M heading into the last few seasons, and they’re at that level right now. So any kind of rumor will provide a hint at what they intend to do, and this rumor about Walker suggests that they’re looking to add to the team this offseason in some form.