It’s been four months since the end of their 2018 season, but the Marlins finally inked a major league free agent. They announced Tuesday night that infielder Neil Walker has agreed to a one-year deal. He is guaranteed $2 million, tweets Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
The Miami Marlins today announced that the club has signed infielder Neil Walker for the 2019 season.— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) January 29, 2019
Welcome to the 305, Neil! pic.twitter.com/uPkOUdp4jI
The veteran switch-hitter has already updated his social media profiles—@NeilWalker18 on Twitter, @nwalks20 on Instagram—to reflect the new gig.
You definitely recognize Walker. He played in Miami last August while visiting with the Yankees. His age-32 campaign for them was underwhelming (.219/.309/.354, 81 wRC+ in 113 games), though he owns a long track record as an above-average hitter (lifetime .268/.339/.430, 112 wRC+). Walker spent his previous nine seasons in the National League.
Here is the club’s full release:
Walker was exclusively a second baseman during his prime earlier this decade. That obviously won’t be the case in 2019 with Starlin Castro in the organization and promising prospect Isan Díaz waiting as his heir apparent at the position.
Shortly after the announcement, president of baseball operations Michael Hill confirmed on the Marlins Hot Stove Radio Show that they will lean on his newly developed versatility.
Walker fits splendidly from an offensive perspective. The roster is devoid of other quality left-handed bats after trading Justin Bour and designating Derek Dietrich for assignment. The former Silver Slugger is technically a switch-hitter, but he fared terribly against southpaws last season (.477 OPS in 82 PA). Platooning with Peter O’Brien at first base figures to be his primary responsibility.
A longtime friend and Pirates teammate of Pedro Álvarez (signed to a minor league deal with Spring Training invite), the irony is that Walker’s presence decreases the slugger’s chances of cracking Miami’s active roster. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Walker, O’Brien and Álvarez share a clubhouse at the same time unless there are injuries at other positions.
The Marlins had a full 40-man roster, so their corresponding move was designating right-hander Nick Wittgren for assignment.
On the surface, it’s an extremely strange choice. Wittgren was projected to pitch high-leverage innings in their depleted bullpen.
However, I have a theory (h/t Luke Simpson):
Keep in mind, Marlins have a full week to resolve Nick Wittgren's DFA status. That fits the timeline of J.T. Realmuto trade negotiations...— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) January 29, 2019
The 27-year-old is too established to pass through waivers and too valuable for the Marlins to lose on a simple waiver claim.
He seems destined for a trade over the next seven days. With J.T. Realmuto negotiations reportedly nearing a climax, perhaps the intention is to bundle Wittgren with the All-Star catcher to maximize the prospect package they receive in return.
Although it is natural to focus on the baseball consequences, keep in mind that Wittgren is expecting the birth of his first child in March. He also lives in South Florida year-round. Unfortunate timing for the family.
We wish them all the best moving forward with a new team.