The Pirates have become increasingly open to an extension for Neil Walker, Rob Biertempfel reports.
That's fine, but I doubt the Pirates will offer anywhere near the money Walker could reasonably ask for, and I don't think they should. In fact, Biertempfel notes that the two sides are "far apart," and that there are currently no active negotiations.
Walker is a terrific player who has probably turned out better than we should have expected a few years ago, and he's consistently outperformed his projected arbitration salaries. MLBTR predicted after the 2012 season that Walker would get $2.9 million in 2013; he got $3.3 million. Last year, MLBTR predicted he'd get $4.8 million; he got nearly a million more.
Walker projects to make $8.6 million this year in part because a player eligible for arbitration for the second, third or fourth time will receive a salary based in part upon whatever his salary was in the previous season, so him getting such favorable salaries in the past two seasons will have an exponential effect on his likely salary for the coming year. An extension signed a few years ago (which I was also against) would have limited his current, arbitration-year salaries, although I'm not sure how foreseeable that was. Generally, the point of pre-free-agency extensions is to control seasons you don't already control, and that still shouldn't be a top priority with Walker.
Walker is already under team control through 2016. He's a marginal defender at his current position, and might have to move to third or first at some point soon. And he's about to enter his 30s. I wouldn't mind having Walker around for another couple of seasons, but history says that by 2017 (the first season in which the Pirates don't control him), he'll be in the midst of his decline phase. It doesn't make much sense for a smaller-payroll team to pay top dollar for that type of player, and thus it probably makes more sense for the Pirates to go year-to-year and then let another team overpay him two offseasons from now.