Before Monday's rainout, New York Mets second baseman Neil Walker took the field at PNC Park for batting practice for the first time since he was traded from the Pirates to the Mets in December. As he jogged up the dugout steps, dozens of Pirates employees cheered him from the stands, as reported by MLB.com's Anthony DiComo.
Walker is returning to his hometown for the first time since being dealt for Jon Niese, who will also make his debut against his former club in Tuesday afternoon's first game of a doubleheader between the Mets and Pirates.
"This is a place that I have a lot of great memories, a lot of great friendships on the field, off the field, in the community," Walker told reporters in the dugout Monday. "I bled black and gold for a long, long time. It will still run through my veins for a long, long time. I can't say enough about the fans and about the city and about the community and about the organization."
Walker, who is eligible to become a free agent after this season, will earn $10.5 million this year. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh, drafted by the Pirates, with whom he played the first seven years of his career, and he currently owns a home 20 minutes north of the city.
That said, he added, "I couldn't be happier with where I've landed."
Walker, 30, is hitting .279 with 13 home runs and 25 RBIs in 190 at-bats for the Mets.
"He's been a plus for us," manager Terry Collins said of Walker. "And in order to get a good player like that, you've got to trade a good player. It was a deal that looks like, so far, both sides have certainly used it to their advantage."
Collins is mostly right, in that the the net result has actually been good for both teams. With an abundance of pitching (and Zack Wheeler slated to return soon), the Mets had no need for Niese. In the absence of Daniel Murphy, they needed Walker. The Pirates needed a back-end starting pitcher, which they got in Niese, and internal-solution Josh Harrison has been pretty good for them at second base. However, Niese-for-Walker is not really how this deal is being judged here in New York. Instead, as New York Post's Ken Davidoff points out today, the true comp is Murphy for Walker.
"Maybe Walker will keep helping the Mets all the way to a World Series title, and he'll sign elsewhere next offseason, and Dilson Herrera will take over seamlessly in 2017. That would give the Mets the full win at second base," Davidoff writes. "For now, though, to fully scrutinize the Mets' keystone call, you have to keep tabs on Flushing, Pittsburgh, Vegas … and Washington."
I'm not fully convinced Herrera will be the starting second baseman Opening Day 2017. Why? I believe the Mets are all-in on 2016, and will seriously consider dealing him this summer for a key piece. If they don't, then he's their guy. But, if a deal presents itself that helps this year's club in a meaningful way, and he's the ask, I think the Mets will at least consider it. They have to. If Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Wheeler and Jeurys Familia are healthy and pitching well, now is the time to go for it. And, if that means dealing Herrera, so be it. Who knows, maybe the Mets can re-sign Walker? Or, maybe another option presents itself. The chance to win a World Series doesn't come around often, let alone two years in a row.