The Mets looked like quite possibly the favorites to sign Ben Zobrist, right up until they didn’t do that. So now they’ve gone ahead and re-purposed their “Welcome” sign to read “Neil Walker” instead, picking up the second baseman from the Pirates for Jon Niese (pending physicals) . It’s a straight one-for-one, with Walker set to make almost $11 million, and Niese set to make $9 million. Walker is then eligible for free agency, while Niese has a pair of club options.
For the Mets, Walker subs in for Zobrist in theory, but he’s really subbing in for Daniel Murphy. And the convenient thing about that is Walker, overall, is awful similar to Murphy. He switch-hits, yeah, and he has a bit of a different personality, and Murphy strikes out less often, but these are slightly above-average hitters who are probably slightly below-average defenders at second. Walker projects for a 113 wRC+, while Murphy projects at 109. Both of them are 30, although Murphy will sooner turn 31. Walker doesn’t bring everything that Zobrist would’ve, particularly beyond just the season ahead, but this is almost like an extension of the status quo. Walker is a fine player, and the Mets have plenty of excellent players.
On the Pirates end, Walker has long been the subject of trade rumors, particularly with his free agency approaching. In Niese, the Pirates have added rotation depth, and depth that could be controlled for another three years if that’s what they prefer. Niese’s club options are worth $10 million and $11 million, and he’s looked like a decent pitcher in the past. He has a track record of being in the vicinity of average, around some worrisome shoulder problems.
Niese did just lose some strikeouts. You never want a pitcher to lose strikeouts. What he didn’t do was lose any velocity, and now he gets to join up with Ray Searage. And I feel obligated to point something out — Niese projects for a 4.13 FIP, according to Steamer. Shelby Miller projects at 4.22. Mike Leake also projects at 4.22. I don’t mean to suggest that’s everything, or that Niese ought to be on that level, but that is an objective forecast. He could easily be restored to being an average starting pitcher, and these days those go for more than $10 – 11 million a year. That’s probably the Pirates’ angle.
For the Mets, Niese was clearly expendable, and they wanted help in the infield. And it’s better to gamble on a hitter than on a pitcher with a shoulder history. But the Pirates could pull some value of their own out of this, and it wouldn’t even require that much Searage magic. Just Jon Niese pitching more or less like himself. Fold back in a few more strikeouts, and you have a No. 3 or No. 4 starter with a modest salary. It’s not nothing.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.
I think this takes the award for the most balanced trade I have ever seen.
Kendrys Morales for Jason Vargas
Pretty much my reaction too. Even as a fan of one of the teams with a fair amount of history and sentiment invested in one of these players (Niese) it’s hard for me to see this as anything but a smart win-win deal for both sides. I’ll be sad to see Niese go but it’s been clear for a while that he’s worth more in someone else’s rotation than as a sixth starter on the Mets — and Walker is the most perfect replacement for a departing Murphy that you could hope for, at a very reasonable price. (My eyes have a hard time believing the defensive stats that Walker is only a run or two better defensively than Murph, but they’re very closely comparable players anyhow.)