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Unsigned Walker would help these 5 clubs

Second baseman has been above average every year of career
MLB.com @mike_petriello

Let's start with a list. There have been eight seasons of baseball since 2010, and in that time, only six hitters have had at least 12 homers and above-average batting performance (defined here as a 105 OPS+) in every one of those seasons. That's consistency, and that's quality.

The first five names are stars, considered among the game's best sluggers: Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion and Adrian Beltre. The sixth is Neil Walker. If he doesn't seem to fit in with that group, it's not just because of name value. It's because the others are being counted on to lead playoff pushes this year, while Walker is still without a job. Have we all forgotten that Walker is useful?

Let's start with a list. There have been eight seasons of baseball since 2010, and in that time, only six hitters have had at least 12 homers and above-average batting performance (defined here as a 105 OPS+) in every one of those seasons. That's consistency, and that's quality.

The first five names are stars, considered among the game's best sluggers: Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion and Adrian Beltre. The sixth is Neil Walker. If he doesn't seem to fit in with that group, it's not just because of name value. It's because the others are being counted on to lead playoff pushes this year, while Walker is still without a job. Have we all forgotten that Walker is useful?

It's partially because Walker is not a star, of course. He's made no All-Star teams. Walker has collected zero Most Valuable Player votes. He's never hit .300 or driven in 100 runs or won a Gold Glove, for what little that matters. Walker is a switch-hitter with some trouble hitting lefties and he's missed time with injuries in each of the past two years, as Mets fans are fond of pointing out. Yet focusing on what he can't do does seem to obscure the facts of what he can do, which is to be an above-average hitter literally every year, with competent defense at second base and the ability to also play first and third.

You'd think that's a player who could improve most any team, and the consistency is reflected in his 2018 projections. Walker's career line is .272/.341/.437 (115 wRC+), and the Steamer projection system has him at .269/.345/.456 (111 wRC+). It's close enough to be identical. Last year, his .362 OBP was better than Brian Dozier, Ryan Zimmerman and Cody Bellinger. Walker's .439 slugging was better than Todd Frazier, Evan Longoria and Chris Davis. Among 34 second basemen with 400 plate appearances, Walker was the eighth-best hitter and the 15th highest in total value. This is a solid player.

Video: CHC@MIL: Walker makes sliding stop to begin 4-6-3 DP

We know baseball has been trending younger, and that's part of it, as Walker is 32; we don't know what Walker's contract demands are, and that's part of it, too. (He made $17.2 million last year after accepting a qualifying offer from the Mets, and reaching that annual number again was never realistic.) But unlike other remaining free agents like Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and Mike Moustakas, Walker hasn't had the qualifying offer hanging over his head this offseason, and we know how much that's affected them.

You might even argue that despite being outhomered 38 to 14, Walker is a more appealing free agent than Moustakas. In addition to the lack of a qualifying offer, Walker is more versatile defensively, far better at getting on base and almost certainly not asking for as large of a contract.

While something like two-thirds of the teams in baseball -- or more -- could use a player like Walker, he's not likely to sign somewhere as a backup. Rebuilding clubs seem like poor fits, too, either because they're not willing to add a veteran who would block younger talent or because Walker might want a chance to win. That being the case, here are five teams who ought to be on the phone, but know that there's really more who should be thinking about it.

D-backs
If there's a surprise here, it's that Walker wasn't on a flight to Phoenix as soon as Brandon Drury was traded to the Yankees (in a three-way deal that brought outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Rays), because the D-backs somehow still have too many infielders and not enough infielders.

They're currently projected for the weakest second-base production in the game, based on some combination of Chris Owings (who will play all over if he doesn't win the shortstop job), Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed (each in consideration at shortstop as well) and Daniel Descalso. That quartet has combined for zero league-average hitting seasons of at least 300 plate appearances. Ever. Walker would be an immediate upgrade at second while adding depth at the corners.

Put another way: Descalso, a versatile 31-year-old lefty who has never had a league-average hitting season and is no longer an option at shortstop, should not be the roadblock that prevents you from signing Walker.

Video: MIL@MIA: Walker powers a grand slam to right-center

Brewers
Walker spent the end of 2017 with Milwaukee after being traded from New York, and he spoke fondly of his time there when the season ended.

"I hope so. I think so," said Walker to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy in October, when asked about potentially returning. "I think it is a good fit. It's an exciting place, a place that has a lot to look forward to and I think the best baseball days are yet to come."

While Milwaukee has added Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to its outfield, the Brewers had just the 26th-best second basemen in 2017, as Jonathan Villar's poor season (.241/.293/.372) spurred the acquisition of Walker in the first place. They're projected for 27th at the position in '18, because little has changed; it's still Villar and it's still Eric Sogard, who was a non-roster invite last year and has a career line of .245/.313/.324.

Put another way: Sogard, a versatile 31-year-old lefty who has never had a league-average hitting season and is rarely an option at shortstop, should not be the roadblock that prevents you from signing Walker.

Rays
Tampa Bay took a lot of bad press for the moves that sent out Jake Odorizzi, Souza and Corey Dickerson, though the moves didn't hurt its playoff odds as much as you'd think, because Odorizzi wasn't valuable in 2017 and Souza was quickly replaced by Carlos Gomez.

While there's still talent here, there's opportunity, too. The Rays had baseball's third-weakest second basemen last year and head into 2018 with Joey Wendle (who was cut by Oakland in December so it could add Yusmeiro Petit) and Daniel Robertson, who might end up being a multipositional backup anyway. At third base, they're going with Matt Duffy, who missed all of '17 due to injury. At first base, some combination of Brad Miller (.201/.327/.337 in '17) or C.J. Cron (acquired from the Angels for a mere player to be named). There's room here. Clearly.

Put another way: Wendle, a 27-year-old lefty who has collected only 118 Major League plate appearances and is mostly limited to second base, should not be the roadblock that prevents you from signing Walker.

Video: MIL@SF: Walker lays out for impressive diving stop

Orioles
The fit here is slightly less obvious, as Jonathan Schoop is the clear starter at second, and Tim Beckham (third) and Chris Davis (first) won't be replaced. But the team reportedly has interest in Walker anyway, and it would work better than you'd think, because there's a ton of uncertainty here.

Davis and Schoop have both been somewhat limited this spring by elbow issues, while Beckham's monster August was somewhat sapped by his rough September (.180/.255/.348), not to mention years of subpar performance beforehand. The Orioles have done relatively little this offseason; while the rotation remains a larger concern, Walker would help, and this team needs help.

Put another way: Engelb Vielma, a 23-year-old switch-hitter without a Major League plate appearance yet with a 40-man spot after being shuffled through five (!) different teams this offseason on waivers, should not be the roadblock that prevents you from signing Walker.

Braves
The Braves don't have a third baseman. If they did, Freddie Freeman and Brandon Phillips wouldn't have seen time at the hot corner in 2017. If they did, they wouldn't be projected for the 30th-best third baseman in '18. They're hesitant to block young Austin Riley, who's probably a year away, which makes Walker a perfect fit since he's only going to get a one- or two-year deal. In addition, if shortstop Dansby Swanson continues to struggle as he did in '17 and needs a trip back to the Minors, second baseman Ozzie Albies could shift over, putting Walker at second. Incumbent third baseman Johan Camargo can play some short as well.

Atlanta might not be the contender that Walker seeks, but this is a much better lineup than you think, with Ender Inciarte, Tyler Flowers and Freeman joining the young up-and-comers that will soon include Ronald Acuna Jr., MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect.

Put another way: Charlie Culberson, a 29-year-old righty with a career line of .231/.272/.324 over 443 plate appearances, should not be the roadblock that prevents you from signing Walker. 

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

Neil Walker