The stagnant free agent market this offseason has affected players at all levels, but it seems to have been particularly rough on middle-tier guys like Neil Walker. It took until mid-March, but Walker finally received what was apparently his only offer this winter, and he jumped on it.
Walker on Monday agreed to a one-year, $4 million contract with the Yankees. He can earn an additional $1 million in incentives.
Landing a player of Walker’s caliber at such a modest price is yet another terrific move in what has been a series of them by general manager Brian Cashman over the last few years. Walker has been held under 120 games played each of the last two seasons due to injury and is now 32, but when healthy he put up a nifty .274/.355/.458 batting line over that span while slugging 37 home runs.
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Because Walker is getting a late start to spring training, Cashman said that he won’t be guaranteed the second base job right away.
“If he takes something from somebody over time, so be it, but he’s getting a late start given the fact that we’re probably about two weeks away from leaving Florida,” Cashman said.
It’s not all that surprising that this would be Cashman’s public stance, especially since Tyler Wade and Ronald Torreyes have both played well this spring. However, the reality is that while it’s possible Walker will be eased into things, he was signed to be the Yankees’ second baseman, at least against right-handers.
The switch-hitting Walker has always been a much better hitter from the left side of the plate with a career .801 OPS (his career OPS from the right side is .691). He’s also generally hit a good number of balls in the air, and his flyball rate has peaked over the last two seasons at 42.5 percent. When you combine that with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, it’s a recipe for a good number of home runs even if he sits a decent amount against southpaws.
Wade had seemed to emerge as the favorite to start at second base prior to the Walker signing but should now shift into a super utility role to take advantage of his versatility. His speed could give him a chance to produce some single-league value even if he doesn’t play a ton.
Bringing Walker aboard might also push back the timetable for top prospect Gleyber Torres. It’s always been viewed as likely that Torres would begin the season in the minors, but passing up Wade and/or Torreyes on the second base depth chart early on in the season would’ve been less of a roadblock than passing up Walker will be.
Torres is still a virtual shoo-in to debut in 2018 and could push to do so relatively early if he gets off to a nice start at Triple-A Scranton/Wikes-Barre and Walker and/or Brandon Drury are struggling. It’s probably not the worst thing to let Torres get his feet under him at SWB for a while, though. The 21-year-old has just 23 games of experience at the Triple-A level, is coming back from Tommy John surgery and is off to a 3-for-23 start this spring.
Mejia to Give the Outfield a Shot
Francisco Mejia is rated as the top catching prospect in baseball anywhere you look, but the Indians are intent on giving him test drives at other positions.
Mejia played third base in the Arizona Fall League, but it didn’t go well and that experiment has been abandoned. However, after optioning the 22-year-old to Triple-A Columbus on Monday, the team revealed plans to give Mejia a some run in the outfield.
Indians manager Terry Francona was adamant Monday that the club still views Mejia as a catcher long-term, but with defensive stalwarts Roberto Perez and Yan Gomes at the top of the depth chart with the big club, the best opportunity to get Mejia’s bat into the lineup might come at another position.
“We just kind of told him, ‘Look, we have Perez and Gomes. Do the math,'” Francona said. “And he’s such an advanced hitter that, if he’s able to play another position and then there’s an injury or something, he could find himself not only in the big leagues, but playing. And I think he understands. We went to pretty good lengths to try to make sure that he understands that this is not an indictment on his catching. He’s just such an advanced hitter. We want to take advantage of it.”
That the Indians want to take advantage of Mejia’s bat is understandable. The switch-hitter put up a blistering .342/.382/.514 batting line with 11 home runs and 80 RBI between Low- and High-A in a breakout 2016 season. He made headlines that year with a 50-game hitting streak. Yes. 50. Mejia then followed that up with a .297/.346/.490 line, 14 longballs and 52 RBI over just 383 plate appearances in 2017 at the Double-A level before a cup of coffee in the majors.
“It just seems like he’s got that kind of a bat that he could probably step into a major league lineup and help you,” Francona said.
Mejia will still do plenty of catching at Columbus but will also be used presumably at both corner outfield spots. With the brittle Michael Brantley holding down left field and the brittle and underwhelming Lonnie Chisenhall in right field, it’s not difficult to envision Mejia at a corner outfield spot in Cleveland this season if he shows he’s a capable enough defender. Because he played five games in the designated hitter spot and three at catcher with the Indians last season, Mejia will enter 2018 with only utility eligibility in most fantasy leagues. However, it appears he could have a shot at some point adding catcher and outfield to that list.
Quick Hits: The Phillies on Monday made official their three-year, $75 million contract with Jake Arrieta. Manager Gabe Kapler wasn’t sure whether the late-signing Arrieta would be ready at the beginning of the season, but the skipper said Aaron Nola will be his Opening Day starter regardless … The Rockies on Monday made official their one-year, $8 million contract with Carlos Gonzalez … The Twins on Monday made official their one-year, $12 million contract with Lance Lynn. He’ll make his Grapefruit League debut on Tuesday … An MRI on Robinson Cano’s left hamstring came back negative. He’s expected back in game action by the end of the week … Marcus Stroman (shoulder) has been officially ruled out for Opening Day but is tentatively scheduled to pitch either in a simulated game or against Team Canada on Saturday … Luiz Gohara (ankle) is unlikely to join the Braves’ rotation before May … Corey Seager (elbow) said he felt good after playing in a minor league game on Monday … Daniel Murphy (knee) will take on-field batting practice again on Monday … Padres manager Andy Green indicated Monday that he expects Jose Pirela to be an everyday player this season … Clayton Kershaw struck out seven batters over 3 2/3 scoreless innings Monday in a Cactus League start against the Brewers … The Mets are looking at having Yoenis Cespedes hit second this season … Kenley Jansen (hamstring) will pitch in a Cactus League game on Thursday … Sean Newcomb was electric against the Phillies on Monday, striking out six across 4 2/3 perfect innings … The Mariners hope Felix Hernandez (forearm) is ready to throw a bullpen session Tuesday … Shohei Ohtani finished 0-for-4 with a strikeout in Monday’s Cactus League game against the Reds and is now 2-for-18 (.111) with six strikeouts as a hitter this spring … Jake Junis struck out seven batters over four hitless innings Monday in a Cactus League start against the Padres … Eddie Rosario (triceps) hopes to serve as the designated hitter in games soon … Zach Davies (oblique) pitched three intrasquad innings Monday with no issues … Tommy Joseph was designated for assignment by the Phillies on Monday … Jharel Cotton worked four hitless innings Monday in a Cactus League start against the Giants … An MRI on Nick Delmonico’s left shoulder came back negative … Ryon Healy (hand) is slated to take batting practice on the field Tuesday and Wednesday … Stephen Vogt experienced a setback with his shoulder while trying to throw on the field Monday … Brewers manager Craig Counsell has named Chase Anderson as his Opening Day starter …