TAMPA, Fla. — There are no guarantees, general manager Brian Cashman said he told Neil Walker. Well, other than the $4 million guaranteed the Yankees have agreed to pay Walker to compete with Tyler Wade for their second-base job.
After reaching agreement earlier in the day, Walker, 32, showed up at Steinbrenner Field on Monday evening and quickly changed into some Yankees gear at a locker that didn’t have his nameplate yet. He was assigned No. 14. The signing of the former Met came together quickly after an agonizingly long offseason in which Walker didn’t receive a single offer until the Yankees called three days ago.
Walker, who earned $17.2 million last season, can earn another $500,000 in incentives this year, bringing the total package to $4.5 million. It’s just another example of an unusual free-agent market in which some veterans have had to take what they could get in order to have a job.
“It was certainly a crazy offseason, but more than anything, my hope was that I would land somewhere that was going to be competitive and had a chance to win,” Walker said. “So I can’t really control what happened in the offseason. I’m just happy to be here and happy to be on a contending team.”
Walker, a switch hitter, hit .265 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs for the Mets and Brewers last season. The Mets traded him to Milwaukee after almost sending him to the Yankees. So he has been on Cashman’s radar for some time as a productive bat and a good clubhouse guy.
“My job is to evaluate with our staff what’s available and kind of measure it up,” Cashman said. “We value his abilities. We feel he’s a professional hitter. We feel he can cover us at third, second, first. We like what’s going on in camp currently. So he’s got about two weeks to go for us to get him finished off and ready.”
Health has been an issue for Walker, as back issues and other injuries have limited him to 113 and 111 games the last two years. He had back surgery in 2016.
The Yankees went into spring training with rookies Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres atop the depth charts at third and second base, respectively. Skeptics laughed at the idea that the Yankees would begin the season with two neophytes in the lineup. After the trade for Brandon Drury to play third and the signing of Walker, it appears the skeptics are right.
Torres almost certainly will start the season at Triple-A, but hold on a minute, Cashman and manager Aaron Boone say. Both said Walker will not be handed the second-base job even though he has played 1,060 big-league games and is a career .272 hitter with 130 home runs.
The Yankees really like what they’ve seen this spring training from Wade, 23, who returned from a wrist injury Monday night, went 2-for-3 against the Twins and is batting .333. He hit .155 in his first 58 big-league at-bats last season.
Boone went so far as to say “I don’t think anything changes” with the way he will use the versatile Wade, who could be valuable in a utility role. Wade, who started Monday at second, has played third, second, shortstop and all three outfield positions in his professional career.
Cashman, though, mentioned the utility role when speaking of Walker, who has limited experience at third base and first base. Cashman said he considered signing Walker as the Yankees’ everyday third baseman before trading for Drury.
Either way, Walker is happy just to have a team after beginning spring training at the Players Association’s unsigned players camp. He said he initially might play in minor-league games to get extra at-bats to get ready for the March 29 opener at Toronto.
“When it came down to it, I didn’t have an offer from anybody until three days ago,” he said. “That was certainly frustrating. But I’m happy I have a few weeks to get ready for the season.”