Friday, December 11, 2015
The Walker Deal
If you follow these things closely, the news of the trade by the Pirates of Neil Walker came as no surprise, but it was nevertheless jarring because of Walker's popularity with the fans, his overall skill level, and, of course, the fact that he was "The Pittsburgh Kid". The deal, however, once again brought home the fact that baseball is, as are all professional sports, a business - on both sides of the negotiating table.
Bob Nutting and his fellow fraternity members in MLB are business owners who have every right to turn a profit and set and live within a budget. We may not like it, but there you are.
Neil Walker and his fellow players are Hessians who have every right to seek the top dollar from whomever employs them. The people who are now berating the Pirates for getting rid of Walker need to be aware that while the Pirates were working long term deals with Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Charlie Morton, they were also making offers to to do the same with Walker, and Walker said no, not once, but twice over the years. That is his right, and he will now have the chance to seek a deal more to his liking from the Mets this year, or any other team in 2017 if he opts for free agency. And I hope that he gets it.
Also, let's abandon the idea that the Pirates have somehow "betrayed" the fans by trading the local guy. Neil Walker is going to a good team, the defending NL champion, and I doubt that he will feel bad in the least that he is not playing in his home town when he gets his money from the Mets. Plus, outside of the Walker Family, I doubt that the Pirates sold a single extra ticket over these years because a kid from Pine-Richland was playing for them.
Okay, how about this deal from a baseball standpoint? Well, there is no doubt that the Pirates need starting pitching to replace A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ, and maybe, possibly (hopefully?) Jeff Locke. Who knows at this point if Jonathon Niese fit the bill? If he duplicates what Burnett did (9-7, 3.18) last year, will that be enough to make up for losing Walker? On such things will Neal Huntington and the Pirates be judged come October 2016.
It can also be stated that with the loss of both Walker and Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates are a severely diminished team from the one that won 98 games last year. With those players' departure, the Bucs are losing 43 home runs, 148 RBI, and 129 runs scored. That ain't going to be easy to replace. The good news, though, is that the Pirates don't have to play a single game until April, so there is time for Huntington to assemble new pieces to the Pirates puzzle. Three years ago, I would have been railing at Huntington and the Pirates, over these moves, but the last three years have shown that NH can assemble good teams given the resources his bosses have given him, so I'll draw no conclusions until the final 25 guys head north from Bradenton at the end of March.
However, a final word on those resources that Huntington is given. One has to wonder if the Pirates will EVER make the one big move that will put them over the top and make them truly elite. Last year, the Nationals GM Mike Rizzo had to go to his ownership to see if they would swallow hard and make the move to sign Max Scherzer. They did, and Scherzer performed up to expectations, even though the Nats did not. This winter, the Diamondbacks did the same thing in signing Zach Grienke, and who knows how that will work out for them. Will the Pirates EVER do something like that?
Sadly, I'm afraid that we all know the answer to that question.