The Diamondbacks are open to talking about trades involving first baseman Christian Walker, The Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro reports. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that Walker is being shopped, it does provide another view into how the D’Backs could be approaching the trade deadline.
Arizona is in last place in the NL West, with a 39-51 record and sizeable deficits to make up in the division race (20.5 games behind the Dodgers) and the wild card race (nine games). As such, it looks like the D’Backs will be deadline sellers for the third consecutive year, yet their willingness to discuss Walker represents something of a change from the team’s strategy. In both 2020 and 2021, the Diamondbacks were only looking to move shorter-term veterans, rather than deal any core players and trigger a wider-scale rebuilding effort. As such, players like Zac Gallen and Ketel Marte were kept, and Marte even signed a new contract extension prior to the season.
Walker represents perhaps a middle ground between veterans under short-term control and what Arizona considers its core players. Walker is a veteran in own right, playing in his age-31 season, and yet he is still only in his first year of arbitration eligibility. After agreeing to a $2.6MM salary for 2022, Walker is arb-controlled through the 2024 campaign.
This makes Walker a relatively inexpensive option for a D’Backs team that traditionally works within a limited budget. However, the team could be considering Walker’s age, the fact that prospect Seth Beer could be ready to step into a more regular first-base role, and perhaps simply a desire to sell high on Walker during a strong season.
Emerging as the Diamondbacks’ top first base option in 2019, Walker hit .262/.344/.471 with 36 homers over 846 plate appearances in 2019-20 before struggling through some injuries last year. He has bounced back nicely, hitting .206/.319/.467 with 22 home runs in 361 PA, translating to a 116 wRC+/121 OPS+.
As Piecoro noted, Walker’s Statcast numbers are even more impressive, with plenty of hard-contact and an elite 13.3% walk rate. If anything, Walker’s real-world numbers don’t reflect his overall offensive quality, as his .339 wOBA is well under a whopping .400 xwOBA. Defensively, Walker has been one of baseball’s best first-base gloves, with +8 Outs Above Average, +12 Defensive Runs Saved, and +4.5 UZR/150.
There’s plenty here to attract rival teams, and Walker’s trade value is enhanced by his extra years of control. Josh Bell and Trey Mancini are considered the top first basemen available as the deadline approaches, but both players can test free agency after the season (Mancini is widely expected to turn down his end of a mutual option for 2023). The D’Backs could potentially shop Walker to not just current contenders, but to teams who might not be full-fledged contenders now but would be looking to vie for the playoffs by 2023.
For his own part, Walker isn’t worrying about any possible trade rumors, saying “just because somebody is an option to be traded, another team still has to want them. There’s a lot of moving pieces in it, like getting something that’s worth it in return. There are a lot of things that are above my pay grade, to some extent. For me, it’s a better mental spot to ignore it and if you get a phone call, you get a phone call. If not, this is my team and these are my teammates.”