The Mets have traded Neil Walker and cash to the Brewers in exchange for a player to be named later. As of this writing, the exact amount that the Mets will be covering of the $4.7 million owed to Walker had not been reported.
This deal follows in the footsteps of the recent Jay Bruce deal where the insufferably frugal Mets chose to save what is a paltry amount of money for a major league team. The Mets are actually eating at least some money in the Walker deal, but there is no reason for them to not eat all of it in order to get the best prospect possible.
The Brewers have clearly had a surprisingly good season. Going into the All-Star break, they were talked about as one of the biggest surprises in baseball with a 5.5-game lead over the juggernaut Cubs. Since then they have gone 10-18 and were outscored by 34 runs. They have now dropped to third place in the division and are three games behind the Cubs. They need help.
The Brewers’ second base situation has been especially disappointing. Between Eric Sogard and Jonathan Villar, they have gotten approximately replacement level play, per FanGraphs.
Sogard has rarely been much more than a replacement level player. However, in his first month in Milwaukee, he hit a prodigious .347/.467/.547. Interestingly enough, the 3 HR he had hit in that time was already a career high for a season. Obviously a .371 BABIP combined with the fact that he was a career 72 wRC+ hitter who had not played in the majors since 2015 meant that he was going to regress. He has hit .235/.330/.296 since then.
Villar’s performance has fallen off a cliff. He was an above-average hitter the past couple of seasons but has performed poorly this season. His line of .222/.281/.346 makes him one of the worst hitters in the majors. Furthermore, his basestealing has declined as well. His 62 stolen bases last year were not quite as impressive as it seems because he got caught a league-leading 18 times, but this year he has stolen only 20 bases. His success rate is slightly lower as well.
Villar will not be eligible for free agency until 2020, so perhaps his days with the Brewers are not over, especially since Walker is just a rental. Villar’s days of being a 3-4 WAR player might be gone, but perhaps he can still reach something close to that. Top prospect Isan Díaz is probably going to take over second base within the next year or two regardless, so Villar’s days are probably numbered no matter what. By the time Díaz is ready, Villar could either be traded or designated for assignment if he hasn’t recovered his form.
Walker missed approximately a month and a half earlier this season due to a partially torn left hamstring. He has hit very poorly since coming off the DL on July 28th, hitting .233/.267/.302 albeit in a meaningless sample size of 45 PA. Before then he was hitting .270/.352/.468, good for a 117 wRC+. Last year he hit .282/.347/.476, which was worth a 122 wRC+. His defense at second base is subpar, but the guy can hit.
Given the Brewers’ struggles at second base, Walker is undeniably a significant upgrade. However, since it is about the middle of August, it is difficult to claim that Walker will be worth even one extra win going forward, and that is assuming he is fully healthy.
Without knowing the PTBNL, the trade becomes a little more difficult to evaluate. Eventually we will learn whom the Mets will receive and how much money they will part with, but given what we know about this team, it is hard to believe that it will be a satisfactory return. Walker is a rental with injury questions, so it was unlikely that the Mets could have done much better than some fringey youngster. As a competitive team with a big hole at second base, the Brewers probably did not have a lot of leverage, especially now that players have to make it through waivers. I am sure they would have preferred to get Ian Kinsler, but he did not make it through waivers.
From the Mets’ perspective, this opens up the door to calling up Gavin Cecchini to be the everyday second baseman for the remainder of 2017. He is not doing well in Triple A this year, but he did perform very well there last year. It could be worthwhile to call him up to see what he can do. It is also not a bad idea to try to sign Walker back during the offseason if the price is right. There is no reason to believe that the Mets should not try to contend again in 2018. It is certainly preferable to playing José Reyes there.
The best argument against this trade for the Brewers is that they have such a small chance to make the playoffs. FanGraphs has those chances at 3.8 percent, and Baseball Prospectus has them at 5.2 percent. Neil Walker is not going to make up that deficit, but they are paying what looks to be very little for him, so it is a low-risk, medium-reward trade. This deal might end up working out best for Walker, who now goes to a more competitive team and no longer has to worry about a qualifying offer hurting his value in the offseason.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.