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Mets lucky to have Neil Walker back in 2017

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The switch-hitting second baseman is looking to rebound from the back surgery that ended his 2016 season

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at New York Mets Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How much more would the Mets’ loss of Daniel Murphy have hurt if Neil Walker hadn’t been so good in 2016?

The 31-year-old second baseman had a 122 wRC+ and a 3.7 fWAR over 113 games. That fWAR was actually the best among Mets position players—including Yoenis Cespedes. Walker’s season, though, was cut short by a herniated disc in his lower back, which was operated on and shouldn’t be a problem in 2017. As long as Walker can stay healthy, he should be able to put up similar numbers to last season.

Walker accepted his qualifying offer this offseason and is back in Queens on the one-year, $17.2 million deal. The Mets were rumored to be discussing a contract extension with him following his acceptance of the deal, but no deal materialized.

So now in 2017, Walker has to prove himself worthy of a multi-year deal again. Last season certainly helped his case, as the switch-hitter showed home run power against lefties for the first time of his eight=year career. Before last year, Walker had only hit six home runs from the right side of the plate. Last year, in just 100 at-bats as a right-handed hitter, he hit eight.

Walker’s defense is nothing special, but it is solid. His 11.1 UZR/150 was the best of his career, and his 0 DRS was exactly league average. He only played second base for the Mets last season, but he could be used at third base or first base this season.

Over a full season, Walker’s 2016 numbers equate to about 33 home runs and 79 RBIs. Pair that with Walker’s 2016 batting line of .282/.347/.476 and his ability to bat anywhere in the lineup, from either side of the plate, and you have a high-quality ballplayer. Walker should be a key piece of the Mets’ lineup this year.