Mets bringing Neil Walker back fills major hole in lineup

The Mets got this one right.

The loss in the wild card game last motivated them going into the offseason, not to address the bullpen that blew the game, but to look at how unbalanced their lineup was. Watching Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner shut down their heavily lefty-hitting lineup played a part in the Mets making a qualifying offer to switch-hitter Neil Walker.

Monday, Walker, whose season ended in early September to have surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, became the first Met to ever accept a qualifying offer. That means he comes back to the Mets on a one-year deal for $17.2 million for the 2017 season.

Yoenis Cespedes, as expected, however, did not accept the offer. The Cuban slugger walked away from the final two-years of a contract with the Mets which would have given him $23.7 million the next two years to test the free agency market. He becomes a qualified free agent, meaning a team that signs him will forfeit a draft pick.

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But at least the Mets got Walker back — and they really need him.

Walker was a great addition in 2016 after the Mets lost Daniel Murphy in free agency. The switch-hitter was a plus to the Mets lineup hitting .282 with a .347 on-base percentage and .476 slugging percentage as well as a career-high tying 23 home runs and 55 RBI for the Mets in 113 games last season.

The Mets brought him in, basically planning to platoon him at second base, but Walker improved so much against left-handed pitching he was the everyday second baseman. He hit .330 with a .391 on-base percentage and .610 slugging percentage against lefties. Eight of his home runs came as a right-handed hitter, more than doubling his career total for 14 in eight seasons.

The Mets had already been burned by discounting the offensive improvement of one second baseman, letting Murphy walk after the 2015 World Series, not believing he could continue the late 2015 improvements he made to his power games. Watching Murphy continue to rake with divisional rival Nationals, the Mets were not going to gamble with a hot-hitting second baseman again.

Neil Walker accepts Mets’ qualifying offer, back on one-year deal

The Mets struggled last year against lefty pitching, hitting .255 as a team against southpaws, with Walker in it. So they needed a solid right-handed bat confirmed for the 2017 lineup.

That was magnified not only with Cespedes opting out of his contract as expected, but also the uncertainty surrounding David Wright’s health and Travis d’Arnaud’s abilities.

Walker, a switch-hitter, provides the Mets some pop from the right-handed side of the plate.

Walker, a switch-hitter, provides the Mets some pop from the right-handed side of the plate.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Talk last week at the GM Meetings was non-committal about Wright in 2017. The third baseman has played just 75 regular-season games over the past two seasons because of a degenerative back condition and a herniated disc in his neck. The Mets front office admits have no idea how much they can expect from him.

D’Arnaud, the once promising young right-handed hitter, regressed last season, hitting just .247 with 11 extra base hits and 14 RBI in another injury-shortened season. The Mets are committed to giving him a chance to continue to develop in 2017, but they need someone to hit lefties.

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Watching Bumgarner hold their lineup, without Walker, to just four hits in the NL wild card game re-emphasized to the Mets that even though it was something of a risk to give a player coming off back surgery $17.2 million, they needed to.

The microdiscectomy procedure that Walker, 31, had in early September has had a high success rate in athletes, according to doctors. Sandy Alderson said last week that because Walker had surgery Sept. 8, when he was under team control they had a pretty good idea of how his recovery was going and were privy to his prognosis. The Mets GM said that they had heard enough from team doctors to feel comfortable making the offer.

“Certainly with the passage of time you have a little more information in terms of post-surgery issues,” Alderson said. “So at this point, I think, we felt comfortable assessing the risk that exists.”

And they were able to assess the risk if they did not get Walker back.

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The second baseman available via free agency were unappealing. Had Walker not accepted the offer, the Mets had planned to use Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera at second base.

While the Mets took a risk with Walkers’ health and ability to maintain his success against lefties, it was a calculated one, the right gamble.

Monday, the Mets got one right.

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