The black and gold sky is falling.
At least that’s what your mom’s Facebook feed would tell you.
The Pittsburgh Kid won’t be working in Pittsburgh anymore, and it must be because that miserly Bob Nutting is too cheap. Or because Neal Huntington had it out for Walker. Or some other evil conspiracy theory.
How about the idea that this path had run its course for both Walker and the organization that drafted him?
But what about the Silver Slugger? Funny, Pedro Alvarez hit more home runs over the past 4 years than any other Pittsburgh Pirate, but I don’t see yinzers posting videos of their kids crying about his departure.
But what about the hometown draw of Walker? Weird; I seem to recall Sean Casey, Don Kelly, and John Wehner all leaving the Pirates without so much as a sniffle from a populace now acting as if the Fort Pitt Bridge has been lifted right out from underneath us.
What about Walker’s blue collar work ethic though? Heck, he even promised to move to first base in exchange for about $40 million. What a team-first guy!!
Look, before getting off the rails, the point of this is not to deride Neil Walker. (He is, genuinely, a good dude, and it does sting to lose a good dude.) Nor is it to necessarily champion Jonathon Neise. (Even after a few sessions with Uncle Ray Searage, Cy Young he ain't gonna be.) However, there’s no reason for vice versa, either. Especially when this is the best possible solution for everyone involved.
Walker gets to go to a large media market where he’ll have a chance to prove that he can be as productive and even more healthy in his 30s than he was in his 20s. (Oh, and I’m sure they’ll appreciate his newfound ability to hit left handed pitching, too! … … Wait…)
Meanwhile, the Pirates, after cutting ties with Alvarez and Walker within a week of each other, as well as refusing to pay J.A. Happ, can use the approximately $30 million that would have gone to those three players to bolster their roster in two of the most expensive spots in baseball: The starting rotation and 1st base. Even after paying Niese his $9 million this season, a cool $20+ million will sit and wait to be spent on a Scott Kazmir or Mitch Moreland or even a prorated trade deadline acquisition in July.
See, I know it’s hard to believe, but division titles and pennants aren’t won with black-and-yellow rainbows and unicorns with parking chairs for horns, and certainly not in December. And championships aren’t won in a single offseason, either. They’re pieced together over time through a long range plan, which in the case of Huntington, has been in place for years now. And I’m guessing that plan never involved someday paying a 33-year old 2nd baseman $15 million/year, regardless of how many WPIAL football titles he’d won, and especially when he has younger, more affordable options waiting to take over. (Despite my distaste at the Alvarez release, the same holds true in his case, minus the North Hills zip code.)
Baseball is a business, whether you like it or not. And when you’ve got one of the 5 worst local TV deals in MLB and middle-of-the road attendance, you have to acknowledge that you can’t overspend on a regular basis. Would it be nice to overspend in one season to stack the deck? Sure. As long as you don’t worry about how it’s going to affect the viability of your roster in the long term.
Would you rather spend $45 million on Neil Walker over the next three years, or have an extra $45 million to put toward a future Gerrit Cole or Andrew McCutchen or Starling Marte extension?
Oh, wait… None of those guys are from Pittsburgh. I’ll just go tell them they can go, because they clearly don’t mean as much to this franchise as the kid from Pine-Richland does.
At least that’s what my mom’s Facebook page told me.