Before the start of the 2018 season, two questions hovered over the Yankees. First, many wondered how first-year manager Aaron Boone would fare. Second, and more interesting, would the the team commit to two rookies at critical infield positions? The Brandon Drury trade showed that the organization wanted at least one veteran infielder. That left Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres to duke it out for the final spot.
That battle, however, proved short lived. On March 12th, the Yankees signed Neil Walker to a one-year, major league deal worth $4 million dollars. This move gave the team an insurance policy, allowing them to keep their top prospects in the minor leagues for further developing. Thankfully things didn’t work out as planned, however, as Andujar and Torres were raking in the big leagues by the end of April. With that in mind, was the Walker signing worth it?
2018 Statistics: 113 games, 398 plate appearances, .219/.309/.354, 11 home runs, 46 RBI, 48 runs, 0.1 fWAR, 81 wRC+
Contract Status: Free agent
Like many other middle-tier free agents, Walker found himself without a home at the start of spring training. Having signed with the Yankees less than three weeks before Opening Day, some wondered if he would have enough reps to break camp with the team. He made it work, however, and found himself in the Opening Day lineup.
The lack of a full spring training appeared to throw Walker off his game. He contributed nothing at the plate over the first month of the season. The veteran infielder slashed .165/.212/.190 with only two extra-base hits through the end of April. That worked to an outrageously bad 3 wRC+. The DFA Walker crowd got worked up pretty early.
Walker managed to shake the rust off come May, and he had quite the productive month. He hit .294/.400/.490 with two home runs, making for a 146 wRC+. Perhaps his signature Yankee moment came on May 12th against the Oakland A’s, when he hit a walk-off single in the 11th inning.
For most of the summer, Walker proved to be a serviceable enough bat. His defense at the three non-shortstop infield positions was also passable. On August 11th, however, the team called him into special duty. Walker played right field in an attempt to fill the void left behind by Aaron Judge’s injury.
“I thought he covered some ground and handled it properly,” Aaron Boone told Laura Albanese after Walker’s debut in right. “I thought he did well out there.”
Walker soon resumed his bench role, and while his bat cooled down, he came up with the occasional big hit. He crushed a walk-off home run against the White Sox on August 28th. He also had a 95 wRC+ in September, so he wasn’t entirely unusable.
All together, Walker had the worst season of his big league tenure in 2018. Save for his cup of coffee in 2009, Walker’s 21.9% strikeout rate was the worst in his career. His .257 BABIP also played well below his career average .302 mark. In many ways, he looked like a full-time player adjusting to a bench role.
Did these results make the Walker signing regrettable? I don’t think so. He didn't stand in anyone’s way. He also came up with a few timely hits. That’s not bad for a $4 million, last-minute free agent signing.