I get it, I’ve already heard the demand among Pittsburgh Pirates fans to lock up second baseman Neil Walker now while the team still can.
Yes, he’s having an all-star caliber season, and while he is not appreciated as much as he should be on a national scale, he may be the team’s best option for a trip to Minnesota.
With that being said, Walker is under club control through 2016, so if he has to go through an arbitration process so be it. In the short term, the Pirates most efficient way of using its dollars is re-signing catcher Russell Martin. It may cost the Pirates more money down the line, or it may not, but that’s just the risk you take.
My reasons for choosing Martin over Walker are as follows:
1. The Pirates have failed in making Tony Sanchez the “catcher of the future”
It seems rather clear that the Pirates are not satisfied with Sanchez, as he has not been able to stick in the major leagues. Sanchez has essentially served as Michael McKenry 2.0; his defense needs work and bench coach Jeff Banister could only spend so much time with him.
The Pirates’ plans should be for Sanchez to stay in Pittsburgh, learning from Banister and Martin, but instead they have gone with more of a depth guy in Chris Stewart. Now that Martin is back from injury, he will start regularly while Stewart will get a start or maybe two if he’s lucky during the week.
Why don’t you instead go with Sanchez? You’ve touted him as the future and he’s not going to learn by being a Triple-A player. He’s paid his dues in Indianapolis and now he needs to learn. Stewart is not great offensively – don’t be fooled by the batting average – and is one of those players that will never start. Sanchez needs to staying up in Pittsburgh for the duration of the season. You do not know what you have until you try.
This is not to say that Walker is not a leader, this is out of respect to Martin. Martin leads by example – Yadier Molina is the only National League catcher to throw out more runners – and he is unafraid to stick up for his team.
Martin is an emotional player and while that got him suspended earlier this season against Milwaukee, he is showing that he will stand up for his team. The bat slam Sunday was out of frustration, but in such a short time, Martin is a leader on this team and everyone respects him.
Walker is also a leader but I feel he is still working towards getting that same respect. Players respect the fact that Walker is local and so beloved among the fans, but this is the first complete season he has put together both offensively and defensively.
3. Contract year
What a surprise, another athlete motivated to do well in a contract year. It just seems weird to me that players are so driven by the opportunity of additional money to perform. Many athletes fall into this category and I feel that Walker is the latest.
I’m sure he is extra motivated after a dismal National League Division Series to prove himself, however I have my doubts. With Martin you know what you’re going to get, with Walker you do not although he is becoming more of a consistent player.
Whenever the Pirates’ season does end it will be time to figure out who to keep and who to lose. It is early to speculate, however that’s what makes it fun. I do feel as though both need to be signed, but Walker’s big contract can wait.
If you wait on Martin, the catching position will dramatically suffer with an unprepared Sanchez and an unknown Plan B.
Signing Martin would send the message to fans that the Pirates are serious about contending every season and shed some of the reputation that they are cheap.