Second baseman Neil Walker has surprisingly remained on the free-agent market all offseason, but he may have a new suitor, as the Orioles have expressed interest in the switch hitter according to MASN’s Roch Kubatko.
Walker, 32, posted an impressive .265/.362/.439 slash line with 14 homers in 448 plate appearances split between the Mets and Brewers last season. He’s been a perfect picture of consistency over his big-league career, posting an above-average OPS+ and hitting double-digit homers in every one of his eight full seasons. He’s seemed to be the “Plan B” option for teams like the Mets and Yankees this offseason, but those clubs ultimately went in other directions. While Walker has earned eight-figure salaries for the past two seasons, including a $17.2 million salary in 2017, the fact that he’s still on the market at this point means he’ll almost certainly have to settle for a short-term deal with a seven-figure AAV.
Walker isn’t exactly a logical fit for the Orioles, as they have one of baseball’s best second basemen in Jonathan Schoop. But despite the fact that Walker has made 975 of his 1,000 major-league starts at second base, he does possess some versatility, having seen action at both of the infield corners. He played more of a utility role than ever before down the stretch with the Brewers last year, starting two games at third and playing 14 at first, starting seven.
Kubatko suggests that the Orioles would utilize Walker as their everyday third baseman if a deal ultimately came to fruition, shifting current starter Tim Beckham to a super-utility role. That’d represent a steep fall for Beckham, who began the offseason as Baltimore’s starting shortstop but was shifted to third when Manny Machado was shifted to shortstop.
Adding Walker at this late stage wouldn’t be out of character at all for the Orioles, who have made a habit of signing players who remain on the market to bargain deals in February and March. They’ve already signed starter Andrew Cashner to a two-year deal and added Pedro Alvarez, Colby Rasmus, Alex Presley, and Danny Valencia on minor-league deals since pitchers and catchers reported to spring training on February 13.