Certainly, the Mets have more pressing matters at the moment than deciding whether to issue a $16.7MM qualifying offer to second baseman Neil Walker. Keeping pace in the Wild Card race takes priority over keeping Walker in town for 2017.
That being said, the team doesn’t have much time until it’ll make a tough call on Walker, who’ll qualify for free agency just after turning 31. The QO was all but a given before Walker’s recent back surgery — he provided New York with 458 plate appearances of .282/.347/.476 production and 23 home runs before going down — but that procedure throws some uncertainty into the matter.
Let’s look at the scary side first. Walker’s back surgery addressed a herniated disk that was causing numbness in his toes and carried a risk of worsening problems. Any back issues are obviously concerning for a big league player of any kind, especially when teams haven’t had a chance to see how the player looks upon his return.
On the other hand, Walker says he’s already progressing nicely and is pain-free for the first time in quite a while. It’ll be three months until he can participate in baseball activities, but that’s plenty of time to allow him to prepare for a full Spring Training. Indeed, he seemingly suggests that it should be viewed as a net positive, as he’ll no longer be saddled by the pain. Plus, it’s hard to ignore Walker’s straight seasons of above-average offensive production from an up-the-middle position — one that he fielded at an average (per DRS) to above-average (per UZR) level in 2016 despite posting below-average metrics in prior years.
Certainly, the Mets are privy to much more detailed information about Walker’s health than we are. But the question seems to boil down to one of financial risk versus the evident upside, which could come in one of two ways. If Walker declines the QO, then the Mets would stand to recoup draft compensation if he signs elsewhere. And if he accepts, but returns to health, he could well represent an appealing investment — even at that high rate — on just a single season commitment. That’s all the more true given that New York would arguably we well-served to retain an additional veteran infielder given the ongoing back and neck-related questions surrounding David Wright and the still-undetermined tender status of first baseman Lucas Duda (who just returned in part-time duty from his own back troubles).
While Sandy Alderson and co. bat things around, let’s see where the MLBTR readership stands (link for app users):