The Mets will face a familiar predicament after the World Series ends: whether to offer their good-not-great free-agent-to-be second baseman a qualifying offer.
After hitting 23 home runs with an .826 OPS in his abbreviated first season in Flushing, Neil Walker will become a free agent this offseason. His numbers rank favorably next to Daniel Murphy’s 2015 season, although Murphy had the benefit of a record-setting postseason. The Mets gave Murphy a qualifying offer, but the price is steeper this year, as the qualifying offer will rise from $15.8 million to $17.2 million.
And if the Mets offer and Walker actually accepts, a $17.2 million commitment could pull hard at New York’s purse strings, defining what the Mets can and cannot do for the rest of the season.
But if Walker is healthy, he is undoubtedly worth it. Although Baseball Reference was more conservative, Fangraphs pegged the 31-year-old at 3.7 WAR in 2016. Even discounting the portion of that figure that comes from variable advanced defensive data, there are no other comparable second baseman on the open market, with the only potential starters being Chase Utley and Stephen Drew. The Mets traded away Dilson Herrera, who was their second-baseman-in-waiting, in the Jay Bruce deal this summer.
A qualifying offer would also grant the Mets a competitive edge in signing Walker should he reject the deal. Other teams would have to surrender a draft pick to sign him.
But health will be key. Walker underwent surgery for a herniated disk in his back in September, and a back operation is no small thing for a player who derives much of his value from his ability to play good defense up the middle. Walker, though, has said he is recovering steadily and now is pain free. He argues that he could be an even better in 2017, because the numbness in his toes that held him back last season will be gone.