Neil Walker immediately brings three facets to the 2019 Miami Marlins: veteran leadership, position flexibility, and pop from the left side of the plate. A late-January signing, he is expected to primarily platoon with Peter O’Brien at first base, via President of Baseball Operations Mike Hill.
Although signs of decline were present during his time with the Yankees, his history of putting up productive numbers makes him an intriguing candidate for a bounce-back season.
How did he get here: Signed a one-year free agent contract on Tuesday
2018 MLB Stats: .219/.309/.354, 11 HR, 79 OPS+ in 113 G
2019 Projection:* .244/.327/.404, 15 HR in 444 PA
ZiPS is yet to issue a team-based projection; as such, this projection is provided by Baseball Reference.
Walker made his mark as a bat-first infielder who established himself as the Pirates’ longtime second baseman, and has since expanded his versatility. Most of his starts in 2019 should come against favorable matchups—career .271/.344/.450 vs. RHP—while getting his rest on days where left-handers take the mound.
As we look forward and consider what Miami envisions from Walker in a Marlins uniform, there are a few elements to explore about his most recent play.
First, the hope is that he can build off what was a solid second half of the 2018 campaign. In 52 games played following the All-Star break, Walker produced a .247/.346/.442 slash, with 8 home runs and a 116 OPS+ for the Yankees, who were in the middle of a critical playoff race. Comparable numbers would make him a bargain for the Marlins after guaranteeing him just $2 million on a free-agent deal. If Walker hits his stride during the first half of 2019, he could be flipped to a contender at the trade deadline in exchange for a more controllable asset.
We must also keep in mind Walker’s larger body of work since turning 30 years old. It’s been a period dinged by injuries and inconsistency, but his overall contribution of 4.0 Wins Above Replacement compares favorably to an old friend. Dee Gordon, for example, is a 4.7 WAR player over those same three seasons. Their offensive WAR (oWAR) output is identical since 2016 at 4.7 oWAR.
Since 2016— Danny (@all_right_Miami) January 30, 2019
Dee Gordon: 4.7 WAR
Neil Walker: 4.0
Dee Gordon: 4.7 oWAR
Neil Walker: 4.7 oWAR
The Marlins got a Top 100 Pitching prospect for Gordon. And this is without considering that for fun...
Starlin Castro: 3.4 (JUST IN 2018)
♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️ ♂️
This is not to say that they will continue to be the same players, but there is no basis for dismissing Walker as washed up or destined to fail.
The Miami Marlins see Walker as a low-risk/high-reward signing. In a worst-case scenario where his bat doesn’t come alive in Miami and he hemorrhages runs defensively, at least that $2 million went toward proven leadership, a platoon partner to mentor/protect O’Brien, and a willing substitute across the diamond.
With that being said, if the offensive numbers hold up and Walker’s second half performance is a sign of things to come, then Miami should have a desirable piece to maneuver at the trade deadline.