Brian Cashman slowly sipped on the remnants of his morning coffee, releasing a smile of gratification upon the completion of another astute transaction. Or, that’s what I imagined he did when he signed former Mets, Pirates and short-term Brewers infielder Neil Walker to a one-year, $4 million deal, which is an extraordinary bargain for the venerable veteran.
Going into the off-season, Neil Walker could have conceivably commanded a Justin Turner-type of contract, and then the off-season came and went.The marquee free agents got deals that fell well below their market value, and Walker is no exception. Ostensibly, Walker will be the Opening Day second baseman for the Yankees, a position where he has spent the majority of his career.
So, what does this mean for Gleyber Torres? Well for one thing, the prized prospect was already sent down to Triple A following an underwhelming spring training, during which he posted just a .490 OPS across 25 at-bats. While his performance may raise some eyebrows, it is important to keep in mind that Torres has not played baseball for nine months since undergoing Tommy John surgery in June of last year.
Miguel Andujar, once thought to be the Opening Day third baseman, was likely usurped when the Yankees traded Nick Solak to the Rays and Taylor Widener to Arizona for Brandon Drury back during February. Now, Andujar has enjoyed a superlative spring training offensively, as he has posted a .985 OPS in 35 at-bats, although his counterpart, Drury, has also registered a .922 OPS in 27 at-bats this spring. Andujar still needs to improve his footwork and positioning defensively, but it will only be a matter of time before he is called up. For now, Drury will likely occupy the hot corner on Opening Day, which I have absolutely no problem with.
Now, what exactly does Neil Walker bring to the table? For starters, he brings an additional switch-hitting bat to the lineup, and his versatility allows him to be entrenched at any infield position, although he will be at second. That means that (depending on the matchup), the Yankees could technically have as many as five lefties in their lineup on Opening Day (Sir Didi, Greg Bird, Aaron Hicks is another switch hitter, and Gardner). Tyler Wade will make the active roster on Opening Day, so that brings another lefty into the equation.
Walker has been an above-average offensive player for the duration of his career. In fact, he won a Silver Slugger in 2014 when he produced a wRC+ of 130 and wOBA of .356. For his career, Walker owns a .778 OPS, a .338 wOBA, a 115 wRC+, and an OPS+ of 113, all of which are gaudy numbers. Neil Walker has also dominated right-handed pitchers throughout his career, as he boasts an .803 OPS against righties with a wRC+ of 121.
What else is there to like about Walker’s array of talent? You have to love his abilities with runners in scoring position, because he is the proud proprietor of a career 121 wRC+ with men in scoring position, coupled with a .369 OBP and .348 wOBA. The Yankees were excellent with RISP last year, but Walker adds yet another dimension to bringing base runners home. Could there be more?
Oh yes, you bet there is. Walker is a pull hitter with very respectable career power numbers (.437 slugging and .164 ISO), and that will work greatly in his favor at Yankee Stadium.
Now, like most players, Walker is not devoid of flaws. Detractors will point to his below-average defensive metrics (career -16 defensive runs saved at second base) and his dubious base stealing inefficiency (successful on just 57% of all stolen base attempts for his career). He has been caught stealing nearly as many times as he has successfully absconded a base.
But even with those shortcomings taken into account, Neil Walker was a perfect addition for the Yankees at an incredibly cost-efficient price. One year for $4 million is almost unprecedented for a player of Walker’s caliber, although it should hardly be astonishing to anyone considering how gelid the Hot Stove was this past off-season. Regardless, Walker is an absolute bargain player for the Yankees this year and is one of the league’s most undervalued hitters, especially with his skills with runners on.
At this point, Brian Cashman has devised a lineup that could rival that of the Astros. My belief is that the lineup will be identical to this:
1. LF Gardner
2. RF Judge
3. DH Stanton
4. C Sanchez
5. 1B Bird
6. SS Gregorius
7. CF Hicks
8. 2B Walker
9. 3B Drury
Of course, Aaron Boone will juggle the lineup constantly, as he should. Heck, there’s even been speculation that Judge could lead off, although Boone has since downplayed that notion; whether it be a serious refusal or just a clandestine publicity stunt remains to be seen. Greg Bird could very well bat between Judge and Stanton to separate the two juggernauts in the lineup and provide some protection.
At the end of the day, Aaron Boone possesses an extravagantly multifaceted lineup, and the results could be of historic proportions that will hopefully deliver a 28th World Series championship to the Bronx, and then some.