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Rays Free Agent Target: 2B Neil Walker

Neil Walker tore his hamstring, was traded to the Brewers, and then posted a 19% walk rate. Is he the real deal?

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

As has been the case with many free agents this winter, Neil Walker’s first journey in free agency hasn’t been what he probably expected. Last season he was made a qualifying offer by the New York Mets and accepted the $17.2MM pact.

Fast forward one year, and Nick Cafardo reported that the Kansas City Royals tried to bring Walker in on a MiLB deal.

Neil Walker, 2B, free agent — The Royals were unsuccessful in trying to bring Walker aboard. His asking price was too high. The Royals were hoping to bring in Walker on a minor league deal, with the chance to make the big club.

Walker should get a major league deal. He’s been worth 2+ fWAR each of the last seven seasons. He is 32, so he shouldn’t get years plural; however, he should be in line for a reasonable guaranteed MLB contract.

2017: Walker walked in Milwaukee

Neil Walker tore a hamstring after a hot start to the season in 2017, then was traded upon his return. With the playoff bound Brewers he proceeded to post a 125 wRC+ in 149 plate appearances (a part time role over 38 games) on the strength of an 18.8% walk rate. Pitchers were scared of Walker in 2017.

Over the past three years Walker has hit .272/.344/.446 and put up a 113 wRC+. Even though he is a switch hitter most of his damage has been done against right handed pitching. He’s posted a 117 wRC+ vs RHP and 99 wRC+ vs LHP.

Moving forward, it’s hard to think of him as anything other than a platoon bat.

Importantly, Walker also hasn’t been a good defender at second base. Over his career he’s put up -16 DRS and -23.9 UZR (-3.4 UZR/150). In 2016 he put up a good season with 0 DRS and +9.3 UZR. It’s the only positive UZR season of his career and only the second time he’s been at least average by DRS.

Using a longer lens, Walker looks like a three-win second baseman, but the past couple seasons indicate he’s better suited to a part time role.

But wait, do the Rays already have one of these?

At the end of the day, Walker’s profile is a rich man’s Brad Miller. Walker hits for more contact, and he’s also been more productive against left handed pitching, but not likely by enough to justify the cost.

Currently the Rays have a plethora of left handed hitting options at second base with Brad Miller and Joey Wendle on the 40-man and Ryan Schimpf and Micah Johnson in camp. None of the options are long term answers with right handed hitting Willy Adames and Christian Arroyo slated to join the major league club in 2018 in the middle infield.

It might seem like a redundant add based on the current roster, but Walker has been a very productive major leaguer and in the short term that is unlikely to change.

Neil Walker would make the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays better. If the price is down to a reasonable one year deal the Rays should look to add a win or two. If you agree with PECOTA that the Rays are an 84-win team, that’s a reasonable addition. If you think they’re less, what does Neil Walker offer that Brad Miller does not?