FRIDAY: The Bucs are “shopping” Walker and have spoken not only with the O’s but with several other clubs, per Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (via Twitter).
WEDNESDAY: The Orioles and Pirates discussed a trade that would’ve sent Neil Walker to Baltimore at last week’s GM Meetings, reports Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com. Baltimore’s initial hope was that Walker could be non-tendered due to his impending raise (MLBTR projects him at $10.7MM in 2016), but the Pirates do plan on tendering him a contract, Kubatko notes. Trade talks between the two sides didn’t get very far, as Pittsburgh’s asking price on Walker was deemed too high.
Eduardo A. Encina of the Baltimore Sun also heard the two sides talked Walker, adding that it’s “pretty evident” that the Pirates are attempting to move Walker (links to Twitter). He classifies talks between the two teams as “off and on.” Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review hears that the Pirates are fielding offers for Walker, though he doesn’t characterize the desire to move Walker quite as aggressively as Encina does.
Both Kubatko and Encina note that while Walker is a second baseman by trade, the O’s are set there with Jonathan Schoop. Rather, the duo suggests that Walker could see time at first base while spelling Schoop and third baseman Manny Machado on occasion. Kubatko adds that the two sides could revisit talks in Nashville at the Winter Meetings next month and notes that the Pirates are likely seeking young pitching in return.
Per Biertempfel, Pirates GM Neal Huntington appeared on KDKA-FM radio today and said that the team has the resources to retain Walker, closer Mark Melancon ($10MM projection) and first baseman Pedro Alvarez ($8.1MM projection). All three have been suggested as possibilities to leave the organization, however, with Melancon and Walker being trade candidates and Alvarez being either a trade or non-tender candidate. Recently, Jon Heyman noted that the Pirates have fielded offers on all three, plus the rest of their arbitration class.
Walker, who recently turned 30, will be a free agent next winter. He’s coming off a solid, albeit down season at the plate, in which he batted .269/.328/.427 with 16 home runs in 603 plate appearances. Walker has rated as a considerably above-league-average bat by measure of OPS+ (114) and wRC+ (115) in parts of six big league seasons dating back to 2010. A history of back troubles and a pair of fluke injuries — a 2014 appendectomy and a severely lacerated finger in 2013 — have limited him to an average of 136 games per season in that time. He also rates as a below-average defender, though not egregiously so. Defensive Runs Saved pegs him at -10 runs over the course of 6889 innings at second base, and Ultimate Zone Rating feels he’s about six runs below average per 150 games.
The intrigue surrounding Baltimore’s interest in Walker is somewhat dependent on how the team truly feels he’s best deployed. If Baltimore is looking at Walker as an everyday first base option, then that would signal that the team isn’t confident in its ability to retain free agent Chris Davis. If the plan is for Walker to split time between DH, first base, second base, third base and perhaps even the corner outfield, as Encina writes, the interest wouldn’t seem to immediately preclude a reunion with Davis.