PITTSBURGH -- Could the Pittsburgh Kid come back home?The Pirates have "some interest" in a reunion with free agent Neil Walker, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi on Wednesday. Walker, 32, was drafted and developed by the Pirates and spent seven seasons in the Majors with his hometown team
PITTSBURGH -- Could the Pittsburgh Kid come back home?
The Pirates have "some interest" in a reunion with free agent Neil Walker, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi on Wednesday. Walker, 32, was drafted and developed by the Pirates and spent seven seasons in the Majors with his hometown team before they dealt him to the Mets after the 2015 season.
Walker spent a year and a half in New York and finished last season in Milwaukee. He has been limited by injuries since leaving Pittsburgh, but he is still an above-average hitter and a solid infielder. With Jungho Kang's status still unclear, the Pirates could use another offensive threat in the infield.
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At the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., Neal Huntington told MLB.com the Bucs are "remaining open-minded" about Kang, who is playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic and hopes to receive a work visa that would allow him to enter the United States. He has been unable to do so since a DUI arrest in his native South Korea last December.
Huntington also said the Pirates are comfortable with their infield options if Kang cannot return. They are currently slated to start Josh Harrison at second base and David Freese at third, as they did this year, with some combination of Sean Rodriguez, Adam Frazier and Max Moroff set to back them up.
"We've got a handful of guys that will look to fill that role again," Huntington said. "We'll get to a point in the offseason where we've got to plan without Kang, then if he is able to get into the country, that's a bonus for us. If he doesn't get in, then we haven't lost anything."
In part because of Kang's emergence, the Pirates traded Walker for left-hander Jonathon Niese after the 2015 season. Pittsburgh then moved forward with Harrison at second base along with Kang and Freese at third. Niese struggled with the Bucs for four months before being dealt back to the Mets in exchange for reliever Antonio Bastardo.
After hitting 23 homers in 2016, Walker accepted the Mets' $17.2 million qualifying offer and returned to New York. When the Mets fell out of the postseason picture, they shipped Walker to the contending Brewers in mid-August. Overall, he hit .265/.362/.439 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs in 111 games in 2017. His 111 adjusted OPS+ was higher than any hitter on the 2017 Pirates except Andrew McCutchen (121 OPS+).
Walker played a handful of games at first and third base this year after being used almost exclusively as a second baseman in Pittsburgh. He would best fit at second if a reunion occurred, as the Pirates could start Harrison at third and return Freese to a corner-infield reserve role.
It's unclear if Huntington could afford to sign Walker without making another move to shed salary, however. Pittsburgh's estimated payroll for 2018 is currently approaching $103 million, which would be a franchise record on Opening Day.