To put it bluntly, Neil Walker is having the worst offensive year of his career. After a strong April, his batting average has gotten worse each month, and he’s seemingly hit rock bottom with a .155/.254/.259 mark in July. Walker, who has never hit below .251 for a full season in his career, is sitting a .239 with a little over two months to go.
Only recently have the Mets acknowledged the struggles. In the last week, he’s been dropped in the batting order and has been given more frequent off days. Luckily for the Mets, if things take a particularly bad turn, they have options. Wilmer Flores and Kelly Johnson can play second base, while the team has talented youngsters Dilson Herrera and Gavin Cecchini waiting in Triple-A.
But the real elephant in the room regarding Walker is what happens when the season ends. When the Mets traded Jon Niese for Walker, many praised the deal partly because the Mets would likely be able to get a first-round compensation pick when Walker left in free agency after the season. That assumed the Mets would extend a qualifying offer to Walker, and he would decline. That’s not something that can be assumed anymore.
If Walker is still considered a top-tier free agent (not 100% a lock at this point but likely), we know roughly what the qualifying offer will be, as the Mets gave one to Daniel Murphy last season that would have paid $15.8 million for one season. Offering that much to Walker coming off a year like this seems like a dicey proposition. Walker would seem likely to accept the accept the offer to rebuild his value, which could have the Mets stuck with a player in offensive decline, while also tying up a big chunk of change when the franchise might be negotiating again with Yoenis Cespedes.
Walker returning would also again block a spot for Herrera or Cecchini to join the team next season. There is the possibility that if Walker returned, the Mets would shift him to third base, but they’ve had ample opportunity to do that in 2016 and continue to be reluctant. Eventually the Mets need to give their young hitters a chance and Walker’s return would make that difficult.
So that leaves the Mets with an option that seemed impossible when they traded for Walker — not extending him a qualifying offer. While it will be a disappointment to not get the first round pick, the trade with Pittsburgh was still a win for the Mets. And the Mets simply cannot risk all of the negative ramifications it could have on the franchise if Walker accepts a one-year offer. You have to know when to cut your losses.
There’s still a significant portion of the season left for Walker to rebuild his value, and Murphy showed everyone that a player’s stock can change this time of year. Still, at the moment, the Mets should not risk bringing Walker back. It’s not a decision that needs to be made today, but it’s a conversation that you can bet has already started.