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.

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.

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85 COMMENTS

  1. Replace Mercer with Moroff to offset the cash, play Moroff until Newman comes up. Harrison to 3B, Freese to the bench.

    Steamer projects Mercer at 1.1 WAR and Moroff at 0. Walker projected at +2.6WAR and Freese at 0.8. So on paper it’s +0.7 wins.

  2. I agree that Harrison is better than Walker at this point. Even with Harrison’s injuries he still has averaged about 20 more games a season than Neil, so he is also more durable.

    So basically if you trade Harrison and sign Neil, you would be worse off -and Neil is going to cost at least $10 million

    I you trade Freese and sign Neil, you’re going to get about an additional 1 WAR for about $6 million. That is ok but not good enough with our budget.

  3. My initial reaction is this is a PR stunt by team. We want to recapture the glory days by bringing back the hometown hero.

    Call me a skeptic, but I don’t see this as a good fit.

        • First of all, your talking about a team that’s rather tight lipped, for better or for worse. They don’t ever announce anything until the absolute last minute.

          Second, you didn’t answer the “To What ends” part. What do they have to gain by starting this rumor?

          • Yes, they’re tight lipped about moves they’re considering, so I become a skeptic whenever I hear rumors. Especially when Walker’s agent has come out and said Pirates haven’t contacted him.

            As for the reason Pirates would leak this, I would suggest many Pittsburgh residents, who have given up on Pirates, would be thrilled with prospects of having Walker come back home.

            • That doesn’t sell any tickets. Especially this time of year. Nothing to gain for them. OTOH, for PRNW’s team to leak it makes it seem there is more interest in him, driving his price up.

              In other words, PRNW has incentive to leak this, NH doesn’t.

              Irrespective of this leak, if the Pirates get their act together and are winning games, they’ll sell out in August. If not, they’ll lay off ushers again.

  4. “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 wouldn’t be too sure. Walker has a lot of mileage and chronic back issues and limited range at 2B. I think the more likely scenario is Walker at 3B and Harrison at 2B.
    Harrison is the better fielder at both positions.

    Harrison’s career 2B UZR/150 is +1.5.
    Walker’s career 2B UZR is -3.7.

    I think the Bucs put the weaker fielder at 3B (Walker) which would also lessen the wear and tear on his back.

  5. This makes me think Mercer may be on the block. Moroff is legit replacement and we have 4 guys who could stack behind him in 24 month window. Legit 3B bat is another story. No, Harrison doesnt move from Gold Glove 2B unless hes the dude traded for solid return.

  6. Ok, remember, I am really new to this.
    SF needs an outfielder and the Reds say Hamilton
    may be available. Is there someway that we send
    McCutchen to SF and we somehow end up
    with Billy Hamilton? Possible? Stupid?

    Oh, I guess this would also require Walker
    taking 2/20 to return to Pittsburgh.

  7. This is “fake news”. There is zero chance that Huntington would pay what it will take to bring Walker back. Conversely, Walker will only use the Pirates to up his intimate contract.

    • “Conversely, Walker will only use the Pirates to up his intimate contract.”

      Very possible. We don’t know which side leaked this rumor.

    • I’m not going to lie, when I started reading this comment, I was expecting a rhyme and left sorely disappointed.

      And in order to not be a hypocrite, I have decided I will force this comment to end in the word “anointed.”

  8. I think an off season of Neil Walker, Jarrod Dyson and a bullpen arm or 2 would be a good off season (for the Pirates). Assuming they don’t unload Cutch or Harrison to do this.

    • Sadly I believe the Pirates made their 4th outfielder bed in August w seanrod. Unfortunately as you’re illustrating here there are a lot of good 4th of options and the pirates won’t be considering them until they trade Cutch if that happens. I think Brian Duensing will be a steal and fill a huge void as a lefty in the pen or he’ll come out of nowhere and get a huge offer elsewhere defying all the websites. Otherwise I am sure a solid righty reliever will fall in their lap for little. Then they bide their time until the deadline and add relief if needed. They need to go buckwild in the be IF imo. And if there is a wild card starter Tillman, Ross that they fullheartedly believe they can reform I think that is the move they can make. And this will still cost 120.

  9. I dream of a day when I read “Pirates have interest in Jake Arietta” or “Pirates have interest in Yu Darvish”. Oh well, Neil Walker is better than nothing. I wish even Lance Lynn was in the Pirates ballpark. I think Chris Tillman would be a good buy low candidate that the Pirates like.

    • That sort of thing never will happen on Nutting’s watch. With this group, it’s a “buy low” free agent or no free agent at all.

    • I go back and forth over Tillman and Cozart not sure if those moves work. I think they could and possibly in a big way. They would probably require a lot of juggling. I realize this is a radical idea but the pirates should consider rolling the dice and nontendering Mercer hoping to get Profar or Cozart or both and chancing that Moroff has to play. They should also try to move Harrison and Freese while pushing for Walker it would break even and give them a far better lineup vs lhp and in general. Think what that lineup would be if Kang comes back full force and Bell improves. Maybe if they can’t hit on those additions they rebuild hard.

  10. Walker was one of two posititon player free agents I felt had real potential for surplus value (with a projected contract of 2/ $20m in this case), so for that I’m glad to see there’s at least some chatter.

    Despite injuries in the last two seasons, Walker has been amazingly productive with at least 2 WAR in *eight* straight seasons. That’s remarkably sure production in this era. He’s unquestionably a better hitter than Harrison and a safer bet overall, barring truly catastrophic injury.

    That being said, I don’t think you actually improve the team unless both are kept and overall I just don’t see this as the right direction for the franchise.

    • hell, he really isn’t being that far off from being worth 20 million in *one* year.

      if that’s really the going rate for him, signing him would be a no brainer, one would think.

      • Some team is going to give Mike Moustakas $90m despite being an objectively worse player over their careers and even in the most recent past.

        Walker is just that ho-hum, vanilla type of ballplayer that flies under the radar.

        • couldnt agree more. Plus, paying 34 year old Moustakas like you’d pay 29 year old Moustakas just seems like it’ll be a bad time.

      • Ive wondered if they could get him for $8m if they offered him enough years with player only opt outs although they never seem to do those- might take a 5/6 yr contract

    • Agreed. There are a few free agents I think the Pirates should target if they’re not looking to rebuild, and he’s one of them. He’d be some much-needed power in the lineup, and he’s steady if unspectacular defensively.

      I think their best shot at winning if freeing up Harrison for a true super-utility role again, or moving Mercer to the bench, and that means added *2* infielders. I think there’s enough upside to leave the outfield as it is, and the rotation was mostly fine if unspectacular this past season, despite the team’s best pitcher getting cancer, and most of the rotation being pretty young with some room to grow (and one lottery ticket already in the fold in Glasnow).

      And then, of course, there’s the bullpen.

      • And obviously, whatever they plan, the best case scenario is Kang somehow being allowed back in the country.

    • Basically where I am- but if walker truly Was available for 2/20 I think a gm could do a lot worse for 10m a year.

  11. Walker and Freese would make a really fun platoon.

    I bet Moroff 2b and Walker/Freese 3b

    would significantly out-WAR

    Harrison 2b + freese 3b
    or
    Harrison 3b + Moroff 2b

    for the same amount of money

  12. If we’re going to go for the win, I’d rather have Mike Moustakas. He’s a better hitter and solid at 3B. Plus, he’s a proven winner. He’s not likely getting a ton more than Walker per year, but wanting more years. I’d go for it. This is unless Jung Ho can come back.

    • Moustakas is probably gonna get overpaid. He is 29 and wasn’t a very high war player even with all the HR. Mous is a low walk and average player and is a bigger guy whose range at 3b may start declining too.

  13. I really like the idea of a 3-player rotation of Harrison, Walker, and Freese. Walker would be in the lineup against righties with Harrison and Freese splitting time (not necessarily equally). Harrison and Freese would be in the lineup against lefties. All three have had health issues, and keeping them rested should keep them healthier and more productive. The sum of the parts could be even greater than the individual parts.

    Yes, it would be an expensive infield but lefty power and finding a platoon partner for Freese are two of the biggest needs.

  14. It feels like we are putting band-aids on our problems. I am a big Neil fan but adding him to our infield is short sighted. I would be more excited about a re-build.

    • there’s really no great reason to not spend money throughout a rebuild.

      If this is paired with trading jayhay for prospects, then it would really be the best of both worlds for us fans.

      i dont think the pirates could make themselves bad enough to get a top 3 draft pick next year, even if they tried. so might as well keep payroll up and keep the baseball watchable.

      • Trade Cole, Cutch, and Harrison from last year’s true-talent 75-win club and you sure as hell are gonna give yourself a good shot at a Top 3 pick, but generally speaking I think you make a good point.

        The justification for tanking payroll during the first rebuild was that the money would be put into amateur talent. With all means of doing so now capped and only a fool believing they actually fund future payrolls on past profits, there really *isn’t* any reason they couldn’t still field a watchable club with a decent payroll while building for the future. You make a great point. Best case, they luck into a run at contention a year or two earlier than planned. They also could flip a player like Walker for future value. Worst case, they spend money that would’ve never seen the light of day and lose anyways.

    • I agree completely, BrianO!! I also love this from the article:

      “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.”
      Does this team’s ownership want to compete, legitimately, or not? Also, is it me, or is this whole situation with Kang–the Pirates are still waiting to hear if he will be back or not in 2018–dragging on and on and on, beyond any sense of reason. At what freaking point are we going to know, one way or the other, and what is the holdup?

  15. Interesting… the Walker trade and Niese hubris was one of the first moves that set them off course. As Tim has said, I think the most logical thing to do would be to make a serious attempt at rebuilding. But because of the TV contract coming up coupled with fan anger/apathy since the 2015 offseason(which really started with Walker for Niese and Vogelsong) I think the PBC might feel they have to make an attempt at competing in 2018.

    If the Pirates could get Walker for 2/20 or 2/22 I think he is worth the gamble(he may be much more expensive). Fwiw, it looks like Steamer projects his for 799 OPS vs 736 OPS for Harrison and almost a full win better in terms of WAR- that sounds about right to me as a reasonable expectation in 2018.

    It sounded as if Walker wasn’t a big fan of NH or the FO when he was leaving so who knews if he is even willing to come back and for what price?

    • Sometimes it’s OK to keep your mouth shut and keep your negative comments to yourself. The next time I hear you say something good about NH, will be the first time. But, every article Tim does, you’re the one constantly bashing NH and often you question Tim.

      You and your bullshit should’ve been banned long, long ago…I personally know of at least 3 members that have unsubscribed due to your bullshit. Your entire goal is to find a wound and dump salt all through the wound….That and being contrary just to be contrary.

      • Even by the amazingly low standards of the internet, you rank as one of the whiniest babies I’ve come across. If you want to dispute the veracity of anything I said I’ll listen, otherwise…

        • Coming from the guy that cries about NH like he stole your boyfriend….Like I said, sometimes it’s best to keep your mouth shut, instead of trying to be the smartest man in the room.

      • This is relatively tame John W commentary. Regarding bad relations w NH..For the Pirates was 3&$27 that insulting for a guy who went 2/30 in 3 Octobers protesting to be paid like a guy who delivered in October (Daniel Murphy).

        • Reasonable minds can certainly differ on whether an extension to NW made sense and at what price/years but I really don’t think the small sample of his playoff performance should have much relevance.

          Walker was a guy who you could basically pencil in for at least 2.5 WAR and sometimes as much as 3.5 and he was amazingly consistent in terms of such production.

          • I think it is relevant on a thrifty team. And you would pay him like the Nats paid Murphy? I guess in another sense it was a mutually exclusive whoever takes a contract is our guy at 2nd situation. Walker has out performed in war by 1.6 but cost $15m more albeit injury dictated.

            • Don’t really see how Murphy is yardstick. Time to have tried to extend him would have been well beforeMurphy signed with nats imo

                • Ha! I wish . Long day, maybe I’m not thinking straight. Anyway,I would take a chance on Walker at 10m aav if they could get him

                  • My Gambit is could they get him for lower aav if they give him 5/6 yrs maybe $8m and roll with the risk of a longer contract.

          • It could be argued that other than some injuries Neil is one of the most consistent players in the league. At least statistically. His health is sometimes erratic but I think he can be penciled in for 400 or so ab and 1.5-2.0 war.

      • I didn’t find john’s post that negative or contrary. 3 people I subscribed because of one poster? I hope those little snowflakes didn’t live in Florida, because they would have melted by now.

    • Projections are expecting to play 20 more games than he has been able to play in the past 2 years -possible but I wouldn’t feel comfortable betting on that. If the Pirates sign him they would have to assume that someone else would need to cover the 50 games he misses.

      • My only counterpoint to that is just not playing him against lefties and hope he stays healthy and the extra rest helps. I think at this point in Walker’s career I would be ready to be a strong platoon player and want to go to a contender. The pirates are not that fit but it depends on what he wants.

  16. I know they didn’t sign him yet and it might be just speculation at this point but it kind of shows that they have the idea of ” Let’s go for it one last time with McCutchen”

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