Scouring the rosters of other major league teams, I have continued to identify guys the Tigers could potentially target in the trade market. I’ve focused mainly on their utility to the Tigers, and the potential that they could conceivably be dealt by their current team as well.
Today, I look at my second consecutive 2nd baseman in Neil Walker……
Neil Walker is a 26 year old switch hitting batter, who mainly plays 2nd base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Walker, has played some 3rd base as well, but doesn’t profile offensively as well there. In 2011, according to Fangraphs, Walker accumulated a WAR of 3.0, which is above average and ranked 4th in the National League. Walker is coming off of a 2011 which saw a dip in some of his offensive numbers, however, he did spend most of the season in the middle of a struggling Pirate batting order.
The main thing to like about Walker is that he is a solid offensive contributor for a 2nd baseman. This past season, Walker hit just 12 home runs, but drove in 83 runs while posting an OPS of .742. In 2010, Walker posted an OPS of .811 and finished 5th in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Walker does have a BB rate of just 8.2% this past season, but he doesn’t strike out a ton either at 16.9% of his plate appearances. Plus, as a bonus, he can play every day as a switch hitter.
Walker is also versatile defensively. He can play both 2B and 3B, and actually does a little bit better at the hot corner defensively, where his range is less of a factor. The Tigers are in need of a player at both positions, so if the Tigers were to pursue Walker, they could potentially limit the number of players they would have to acquire by getting Walker.
Lastly, but certainly not least important, Walker is cheap financially. He isn’t arbitration eligible until 2013, and doesn’t become a free agent until 2017. With that type of team control, he could be an asset to the Tigers for several years at a more than fair price.
Defense. While Walker isn’t horrible out there, as mentioned earlier, his offensive game profiles better at 2B, where he is a pedestrian defender. He lacks a little bit of range for the position, and ideally, with Jhonny Peralta at SS, the Tigers would look for a more active 2nd baseman. His hands are solid, but his arm is average, and he can have trouble turning the double play at times.
Inter-league performance. It is just over 100 at-bats, so it’s a relatively small sample, but Walker has performed poorly against American League pitching over his career. He bats just .217 with an OPS of .612. It’s always a concern when bringing a player to a different league, and especially when you see numbers like that.
I don’t think Walker would be an impossible player to grab from Pittsburgh at this point, but it could be a little tough. Like Kendrick of the Angels, who I looked at previously, Walker’s offense is important to his current club. Pittsburgh does however have it’s share of options on that team with Brandon Wood, Pedro Ciriaco, Josh Harrison, and Chase d’Arnaud all vying for time in the middle of the infield. Pittsburgh also has a need for some starting pitching, and Walker is a guy they could use to obtain that.
Neil Huntington doesn’t appear to be a guy that is afraid to wheel and deal a little bit, and with the sophomore slump in numbers that Walker had, it’s possible the Pirates believe his 2011 is more the norm.
Walker would be an obvious upgrade to the Tigers offensively at a position where they have struggled the last couple seasons. Think of a Scott Sizemore (Oakland version) type player OPS wise (.778), who doesn’t walk as much, but doesn’t strike out nearly as much either. Plus, you get the added bonus of a Walker being a switch-hitter.
While the Tigers would have to put up with some uninspiring defense, they could always substitute in the late innings as they saw fit. Walker’s offense at the position makes him intriguing enough that he would certainly be worth a look. If the price is right, I say go for it.