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Ask BD: What's Neil Walker's future with the Pirates?

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Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks, everyone, for the questions. Here's the next round.

Cody42791: Do you think the Pirates will sign Neil Walker to a contract by the end of the year or trade him?

If I had to guess, neither. I addressed this a little bit in the Q+A a couple months ago, but let's spell this out in more detail:

1) A Walker extension would be expensive, given the amount of money he's already getting. He's set to make $8 million this year, and future salaries would have to proceed from there.

2) Walker is in what ought to be his late prime now, and making a big commitment to him beyond 2016 would be needlessly risky, particularly given his injury issues and the fact that an extension wouldn't even start for two more years.

3) Trading him doesn't make much sense either, unless the Pirates have an unexpectedly terrible season. Walker isn't cheap, but the Bucs should be able to afford him at the salaries he'll make in the next two years. He's good, and he's important.

4) If Walker stays healthy and continues to play well through 2016, they can extend him a qualifying offer, which by then will be a one-year deal in the $16 million - $17 million range. A qualifying offer would be a win-win -- if they get Walker for a year at $16 million, that's fine (although it isn't likely). Despite his obvious talent, Walker already has enough red flags as a player (age, injury, defensive ability) that a qualifying offer might really mess up his market -- think Stephen Drew in 2013-14. If the Pirates wanted to keep Walker in Pittsburgh, it might be almost as easy, and far less risky, to extend the qualifying offer when the time comes and then, say, a three-year deal, rather than signing him to a five-year deal right now.

Azibuck: When will people stop whistling past the graveyard on Gregory Polanco? Why do people think he’ll overcome his flaws at the major-league level? He was a minus player versus fastballs in a small sample size last year. He seems reluctant to swing at fastballs. He crushed Triple-A, but the International League is a junkball league, which suits his approach. His swing is long and he tends to work around the ball. He still looks awkward in right field.

This is a very interesting question. Agreed that Polanco has a long swing at times, but that's not necessarily the kiss of death. Plenty of hitters have had good careers despite them. Also agreed that many International League starters are soft-tossers, since that's where teams keep their starting pitching depth. But Polanco also dominated in the South Atlantic League and the Florida State League, which aren't "junkball leagues." And also agreed that he looks a bit awkward in right, but this is a very big and very young man still growing into his body. He looks much less awkward than he did a few years ago. Pretty much everyone loves his tools, and I think we should wait until Polanco has more time to adjust before we start hand-wringing.

Skyvolcanoes: Which player not on the Opening Day 25-man roster helps the major-league team the most this year?

John Holdzkom.

Pat_Meares: Rather than trading Jeff Locke, as some have suggested, wouldn’t it make sense to start Charlie Morton in extended spring training and take him off the disabled list once someone gets hurt or is struggling?

It sounds like the Pirates might at least consider that possibility. If Morton isn't ready to pitch effectively, holding him back might also help the Bucs solve some of their other roster issues by opening a space for either Holdzkom or Jared Hughes (or both, if they decide to designate Stolmy Pimentel).

C Shint: Which rookie makes the most significant impact?

Holdzkom again.

TBote123: Do you think it’s a little premature to crown Elias Diaz the catcher of the future while everyone is basically writing Tony Sanchez off as a backup or trade bait?

If Sanchez proves he's the better player, I think the Pirates will change what currently seems to be their view. But I don't think a good performance in a month's worth of spring games (during which Diaz also hit well) will be the determining factor. Also, the Pirates viewed Diaz as an interesting prospect long before he started hitting, going back to rookie ball, when Diaz started over big-bonus draft pick Joey Schoenfeld. Just about everyone likes Diaz's defense, and that will likely be hard for Sanchez to overcome if Diaz continues to hit, especially given the Pirates' organizational emphasis on catchers' work behind the plate.

I also suspect that leopards don't change their spots quite as readily as people think baseball players do when it's spring. It's terrific that Sanchez has looked great this March, but the real baseball season has a way of exposing flaws, and something like catcher defense is so complex that I'm skeptical that it really could have improved so much over the offseason. But we'll see. Stranger things have happened. Sanchez is a personal favorite of mine -- there probably isn't a better interview anywhere else in the organization. I'll be rooting for him.