The Yankees would be leaning too heavily into nostalgia if they reunited with these three former players in free agency.
The Yankees need to make some changes heading into 2021, but don’t kid yourself. This is a clear American League favorite missing some depth, injury luck and the breaks come playoff time.
If the Dodgers’ 2020 run can tell us anything, it’s that eventually the narrative will change, with very little intervention, if you set yourself up properly in the offseason. The Yankees need some pitching. They need to entertain trade offers with star power on the other side of the equation. But they do not need to give credence to reunions with a few former fan favorites who actually were likely sliced loose at the exact right time.
Most paramount to a successful offseason? The addition of starting pitching. Without Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, and (sigh) JA Happ locked down, there are literal holes in the rotation, especially prior to the return of Luis Severino sometime down the line.
Least paramount? Overspending on a luxury middle infielder, bullpen piece seeking redemption, or a versatile bench player who was actually, uh, worse than you remember.
If the Yankees really are balling on a budget this offseason, these three reunions make very little sense.
Neil Walker #14 of the New York Yankees (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
3. Neil Walker
We’re not sure if you recall Neil Walker’s time with the 2018 Yankees. It was kind of clutch? It was also pretty bad?
Oh, 2018? The year the Red Sox went into hyperdrive and left the Yanks’ superior roster in the dust? Yeah, don’t need any memories of that. Thank you, though!
During that ’18 season, Yankees fans fell in love with middling infield acquisition Neil Walker, mainly because it was fun to call a rostered player Disco Neil. In reality, outside of a few walk-off heroics, Walker’s bat didn’t match his reputation, and the bargain price the team picked him up for late in the free agency cycle ended up being a fairly insignificant maneuver.
All told, the now-35-year-old Walker hit .219 with 11 homers, and was coming off .265 and .282 seasons. He’d been a much higher baseline hitter his entire career, up until his Yankees career began.
We’re not sure if our memories of Walker are rosy just because it was sort of fun to have him around two years ago after he’d spent so many years making an impact with the Mets, but the way Yankee fans recall him is more in line with his preseason expectations than his regular season performance.
The three-run shot to help knock the Red Sox down in September was nice. We’re glad it happened. But Walker made next to no impact as a Phillie in 2020, worth -0.2 WAR. He hasn’t bounced back in the two years following his bench stint in New York. The Yanks can do better.