06 March 2018

Orioles Could Use Neil Walker

When the Orioles picked up Danny Valencia and Pedro Alvarez, the common refrain amongst observers of the Orioles was just where exactly would Valencia fit.  The idea for some would be that if Mark Trumbo would magically disappear that Valencia and Alvarez could form a formidable one-two designated hitter punch.  For instance, Valencia can punish southpaws fairly well (136 wRC+ for career) while Alvarez hits right handers at a 117 wRC+ career clip.  As a fringe, righty hitting designated hitter, it is not incredibly surprising how little interest Pedro Alvarez generates from other MLB clubs as well as how little he played last year.  What is surprising is that Valencia, a poor fielder who only really hits left handers, has seen extensive playing time the past two seasons. 

While Valencia is a poor fielder, he can fill in first, second, third, and corner outfield positions in a pinch.  That is a terrible solution long term, but if your starter needs a breather or you need time to find a serviceable alternative when a starter goes down, then Valencia helps provide a barely adequate solution.  Alvarez, on the other hand, can hold a bat.  He used to play third base, but saw his athleticism vanish in Pittsburgh.  He has attempted to play first base, but he lacked the footwork and touch.  Last year was an experiment in the outfield and was something we just don't want to discuss.  Whereas Valencia can be a solution in a pinch, Alvarez simply does not offer that.

So, the question is whether or not the club can improve upon what it has in Alvarez.  This rather unseemly off-season has provided the Orioles with a potential option.  That option would be in the vein of Valencia.  A player who can perform in the field to a varying degree and provide value as a left handed option in the lineup or off the bench.  His name is Neil Walker.

This might be a surprise.  Last year, Neil Walker played under a qualifying offer, making 17.2 MM.  This year, it is the beginning of March and he remains a free agent.  Walker's market appears to be dwindling as fewer teams have any true need for a second baseman or even a third baseman.  This might make Walker more open to spending the 2018 season in a bit of flux, position-wise. 

Now, Neil Walker is not a good utility defender.  He has performed slightly below average at second base and slightly below average at third base.  In fact, he has spent more time as a catcher (168 games) in his professional career than he has in the outfield (0 games).  He is a switch hitter, but is really only proficient as a left handed hitter with a 122 wRC+ line.  In other words, his offensive value is similar to Alvarez', but he can actually be used in the field.

Neil Walker's Last Five
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/5/2018.

Last year, the Orioles' player with the highest on base percentage who met qualified status was Jonathan Schoop along with Trey Mancini with a .338 mark.  Walker's .362 was much higher.  Over the past five years, his worst performance was a .328 offering that would have  settled in behind those two, but be ahead of Adam Jones' .322 mark.  Needless to say, Walker does something repeatedly in the most recent past that no one else on the club seems to be doing regularly, getting on base.

Walker could be used as a leadoff man in a similar fashion as Seth Smith.  In fact, he basically is Seth Smith.  Both run about the same (~26.5 ft/s).  Both get on base around the same rate.  Both have similar power production.  Neither are considered special defenders.  Walker though can play at more restrictive positions.  Walker is also three years younger.  It is why BORAS projected Smith as a non-roster invite while Walker was put at a 2/22 value.  Walker will not see that money, it seems, as this offseason appears to have marked a point where the value of players is now somehow different.

What this might mean is provide the Orioles with an opportunity.  Walker gives the club a strong platoon option at designated hitter.  He also can be used as depth for third base or second base.  As such, he checks more boxes than Alvarez does.  In addition to that, a multi-year deal could also provide the Orioles with a respectable cover for 2019 if Manny Machado leaves.  Walker can fill in at second or third with Tim Beckham and Schoop shifting around.

In other words, perhaps 2018 would see Neil Walker as the Orioles poor man's version of prime Ben Zobrist.  And, perhaps, in 2019 he offers a baseline solution to what certainly appears will be a need.


Pip said...

What, if anything, would the Orioles have to sacrifice in order to have a designated hitter platoon?

Pip said...

In terms of roster space...boy I wish these comments offered an edit feature.

O's Brose said...

starting position players (8), backup catcher, backup IF, backup OF, SP (5), bullpen (8), DH (2). That's 26 players. So we'd be a man down in the bullpen. That's always the argument whether you want 12 pitchers or 13 with a short bench. Usually we carry 13 b/c our SP can't pitch deep into games.

Jon Shepherd said...

Depends on what they want for the 13th position player. It would come down to a Vielba, Valencia, Rickard, Hays battle.

Anonymous said...

Jon, you are absolutely correct in your thinking. The O's should sign Walker and use him exactly thusly. Who's to say that Walker wouldn't be better than Beckham at 3B? Funny thing is that Buck seems to value fielding prowess for the UTIL not capability to be a starting replacement. My guess is that, if Engelb or Sardinas doesn't make it, Buck will bring Hardy back. But, you know, this same argument - more or less - applied equally to so many other FAs on the market this winter from J. Garcia (O's need a lefty) to Dyson/Jay/Dickerson/C. Gomez (any of which could help now as a LH OF - except Gomez - and stand as a poor man's replacement for Adam next year) to Nunez (who would have filled exactly the same spot as Walker). There have been SO many cheap options this year and so little activity by the O's that it's mind numbing. With RP in such high demand, the O's should be extending Brach and Givens. But all of this assume the logic is to make the team better for longer. I'm not sure that this is the actual goal. I think the goal is to make the cheapest team possible passable in the standings. Steve Adams exclaimed in his chat today that he could not understand why the O's didn't sign Jay for 1/3. I guess it must be because Colby is da' bomb. And they didn't sign Garcia because Nestor is da' bomb. I guess we don't need Walker because Sardinas is da' bomb. Or was that Valencia? And Mountcastle is the next great 3B. Or was that SS? Or was that LF?

Unknown said...

Perhaps Jon Jay didn't want to play with the Orioles. Maybe, if he was going to have to take a 1-year, low-value contract with a non-contender, he wanted a place with a clearer path to playing time.

Anonymous said...

Joe, apparently, neither did Dyson. Maybe Garcia, too. Something about either the Orioles culture or the FO approach must be off-putting. Seems like to team culture is OK so I can only guess that the FO excludes popular provisions or insists upon the always onerous medical. Regardless of whether they're not making a strong enough attempt, good enough offers, or include enough incentives/popular provisions, opt-outs, etc.... they are not being able to put together a winning team even though they would seem to have sufficient resources to do so. Personally, I think the O's are just not good businessmen. They have a process and stick to it regardless of the environment. If the environment fits their process then it works but if the environment changes then everything falls apart. A good businessman must be adaptable to the situational environment.