In a rather shocking turn of events, Mike Moustakas has signed to a meager one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Royals. Moustakas was one of the top position players available in free agency this winter and probably the best third baseman available. At the beginning of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors predicted a five-year, $85 million contract for the 29-year-old—far out of the Mets’ price range, many speculated. And yet, here we are on March 9th and he has just signed for less money than Todd Frazier or Jay Bruce.
Moustakas is not an anomaly, of course. The story that has dominated baseball this offseason has been the stagnant free agent market. While a few top free agents like Yu Darvish and Eric Hosmer have signed blockbuster contracts, the middle tier of free agents is seeing a precipitous drop in their salaries. And as Travis Shawchik pointed out in his recent FanGraphs piece, Neil Walker is the face of those embattled free agents in many ways. In the past 7 seasons, Walker has never produced less than 2 fWAR. He has been considered a solid major league starter for the better part of a decade.
But, as of right now, he remains unsigned. One year ago, the Mets were paying him $17.2 million. If the Moustakas deal is any indicator, Walker will be lucky to get a third of that amount. So far, the best offer he’s gotten was a minor league deal. When you think about it, it’s truly staggering. Walker certainly wouldn’t come completely free of red flags. He is 32 years old and has battled some back injuries recently. But the Adrian Gonzalez signing tells us that the Mets have no issue taking on an older player with back issues if the price is right. And it seems like Walker will come much cheaper than anyone could have imagined.
Walker would certainly improve the roster. The Mets would have the option of installing him at second base, pushing Asdrubal Cabrera to more of a utility role, but if the Gonzalez signing proves to be a poor one and Smith continues to falter, Walker could perhaps play some first base as well. Despite concerns about his back, Neil Walker put together quite a nice 2017 with the bat, posting a 114 wRC+ for the season. After the Mets traded him in mid-August, he finished the season strong in Milwaukee, putting up a 125 wRC+ as a Brewer. Unlike Gonzalez, he sure seemed healthy when all was said and done at the end of 2017.
Because of the slow free agent market, the Mets were probably more active this offseason than most expected they would be at the outset. However, when a quality player like Walker is available at what will likely be a bargain price, the Mets should not pass up the opportunity to at least throw their hat in the ring.