Neil Walker has joined the Yankees
With the MLB’s #5 prospect Glyber Torres stuck in a 3-for-23 funk during spring training and Tyler Wade dealing with an injured wrist, the New York Yankees hit the value bin that has plagued free agents all offseason, agreeing to one-year, $4 million contract with second baseman Neil Walker. After hitting .265/.362/.439 with 14 HR and 49 RBI last season, Walker, 32, struggled to attract much interest on the free agent market despite averaging 2.3 WAR per season for his career. A career .272/.341/.437 hitter, Walker has 130 career HR and 522 RBI and has been worth 20.4 WAR .This is his second stint in New York, as he spent the first half of last season with the New York Mets after becoming one of the first players to accept a qualifying offer for $17.4 million.
After going into spring training with Glyber Torres and fellow top prospect Miguel Andujar likely to take over at second and third base, there is now a chance that both start the year in the year in the minor leagues after the Yankees acquisitions of Walker and infielder Brandon Drury. After avoiding the free agent market a year ago, Walker failed to find a new home well into March even though he posted an OPS north of .800 each of the past two seasons. Defensively, Walker should slide in as the Yankees everyday second baseman, but also provides versatility with experience at both first and third base in his career. Overall, it appears Walker’s market was hurt by a combination of his age, and injuries to his back and left-hamstring that limited him to under 115 games each of the past two seasons.
The next decision the Yankees have to make is who to keep on the bench heading into the regular season. Thanks to his huge contract, Jacoby Ellsbury has a spot locked up as the fifth outfielder, while Austin Romine will return to the backup catcher role. After cutting Danny Espinosa today, that leaves Tyler Wade, Glyber Torres, Ronald Torreyes, and Miguel Andujar to compete for the remaining two spots. Given his poor spring performance and an excuse to manipulate his service time in the team’s favor, let’s start off by assuming that Torres is sent down to the minor leagues for some more seasoning; this leaves Andujar, Torreyes, and Wade to compete. Coming into today, Andujar has hit .281 with 4 HR and 9 RBI in 32 spring training at-bats, albeit with a .294 on-base percentage. Torreyes comes with the most big league experience, having hit .292 in 108 games with the Yankees last year, and then following it up with a .348 AVG this spring. While Wade struggled last season in the big leagues, hitting .155/222/.224, he has a plus glove and has hit .333 this spring. With Drury likely to start at third base for the Yankees this season, the team may decide that they want Andujar to get everyday at-bats at the AAA level before calling him up later in the season, rather than having him sit on the Yankees bench early on. Based on that line of thought, let’s say that Wade and Torreyes round out the Yankees bench heading into the regular season.
With Walker now in the lineup, every one of the Yankees projected regulars this season (with the exception of Greg Bird, who only played in 48 games in 2017) had an OPS north of .750 and double-digit home runs a year ago. Based on Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections, the Yankees should have no shortage of power this season, with the following predictions for this season based on the system.
2018 Yankees ZIPS Projections
- Giancarlo Stanton: 55 HR
- Aaron Judge: 43 HR
- Gary Sanchez: 32 HR
- Didi Gregorius: 20 HR
- Greg Bird: 19 HR
- Neil Walker: 19 HR (Projection with Milwaukee Brewers)
- Brett Gardner: 15 HR
- Aaron Hicks: 14 HR
- Brandon Drury: 14 HR (Projection with Arizona Diamondbacks)
- Tyler Wade: 10 HR
- Jacoby Ellsbury, 8 HR
- Austin Romine: 6 HR
- Ronald Torreyes: 3 HR
Based on the projections, the Yankees will hit 259 home runs this season, and that is assuming regression from Stanton, Judge, Sanchez, Gregorius, Gardner, and Hicks from a year ago in the power department. If these projections hold true, it would put the Yankees in shouting range of the 1997 Seattle Mariners single-season record of 264 home runs, and it’s not crazy to think that with a full-season of Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field, that Walker could hit upwards of 25 home runs this season. Overall, Brian Cashman shopped at the value store and come out on top, keeping the Yankees comfortably under the luxury tax line, while giving the team another strong veteran as they look to compete for their 28th World Series Championship.