If you asked the question back in July, when Neil Walker was the backbone of the Mets offense, there was no question the Mets would have made a wholehearted attempt to re-sign the second baseman and giving him the qualifying offer would have been a no-brainer.
But with Walker missing most of September after getting back surgery, the emergence of other second base candidates, and the qualifying offer going up from $15.8 million to $17.2 million, Sandy Alderson and company have a tough decision right after the World Series.
Now, Walker was very productive last year, hitting 23 homers with an .826 OPS, and his switch hitting power bat was sorely missing when tough lefties, like Madison Bumgarner, were on the mound.
But if the Mets give him the qualifying offer and he accepts it, the organization may be somewhat hamstrung when it comes to other moves this off-season.
If the Mets let Walker leave, they would be well served at second base. If David Wright comes back – and that’s a big if – then Jose Reyes would slot nicely at second. But more likely, Reyes would be playing third more often than not. If that’s the case then Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera would more than fill the role at second.
The Mets should also consider bringing back Kelly Johnson to fill out the bench if Walker walks.
We saw the free agent market change last season. Qualifying offers, which in the past were never a problem, were considered hindrances with mid-level free agents. Teams want to keep their high round draft picks these days, which blocks the free agent market.
The top free agents will still get their money, but a player like Walker may find himself either looking at less money per season, like Daniel Murphy had to accept last year or sitting out most of the winter and signing a one year deal before Spring Training, which is what happened to Ian Desmond.
So there’s a decent shot he accepts the offer. Although his numbers last year say he had a career year, Walker believes the back problem lowered his production, so he could be looking for a 2018 payday.
All of this will also be affected by Yoenis Cespedes’s decision to opt out of his contract and if the Mets pick up Jay Bruce’s option. Both will probably happen.
Now, the Mets could look to move Curtis Granderson if Walker accepts the qualifying offer and Cespedes is still on the team, using Reyes as a super sub, who will play second, short, third, and even center if Wright is back in business.
But it’s all a risk. Walker may see the qualifying offer too tempting to pass up and accept it. Unless the Mets decide to increase the payroll, they will have then make a few tough decisions, especially if they plan on keeping Cespedes.
And all of this is before upgrading a position like catcher.
It’s just one issue they will have to look at this off-season, which is certain to be very complex.