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Pirates

Colin Dunlap: Neil Walker A Curious Case Moving Forward

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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Make that money, Neil Walker.

Make that money.

Whether it is here in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.

I sure hope the Pirates second baseman — a young man I have covered since he was a stellar high school athlete at Pine-Richland High School — gets that big pay day in the near future that he so richly deserves. Honestly, I do hope that pay day comes here in Pittsburgh, a town I know is important to Walker.

Playing in front of his family is a thrill for Walker — this isn’t a guess, I know this.

Playing in front of his high school pals is a thrill for Walker — this isn’t a guess, I know this.

Playing in front of all the little kids who see a tangible example of someone from Pittsburgh who has worked hard to make it is a thrill to Walker — this isn’t a guess, I know this.

Playing for a community, his community, that he can give back to is a thrill to Walker — this isn’t a guess, I know this.

But more to the point — and overriding all of that — I sure hope Neil Walker gets all the money he merits, even if it means leaving town.

Perhaps that sounds greedy, but it isn’t. It is just the reality of being rewarded, justly, for performance.

Make that money, Neil Walker.

Make that money.

You see, Walker, 28, is constructing as solid a season as he ever has; and one on par with any second baseman in the National League. He is hitting .272 through play on Monday with 10 home runs, 26 RBIs and 26 runs scored, all the while making just one error in the first 50 games. His home runs and runs scored lead the team while his singular error marks the fewest in the National League among men playing his position.
If there is a Pirates player who, after 50 games deserves to be an All-Star, it is, indeed, The Pittsburgh Kid.

Being an All-Star is one thing, fetching big bucks is another — and Walker is destined for that as well.

Walker has arbitration years coming up both in 2015 and 2016 and then will hit free agency after the 2016 season. This season, he is making $5.75 million because he agreed to a one-year deal this past off-season to avoid arbitration.

That salary will spike if Walker continues on this path. And, with the Pirates already having money tied up in Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte — along with the prospects of needing to sign Gerrit Cole long term and making a play for Pedro Alvarez and Gregory Polanco — it would seem Walker could be the odd man out of the financial picture for this franchise.

That said, this becomes a double-edged sword as we traverse through the remainder of the 2014 season for Walker, who has a personality and demeanor off-the-field that makes him impossible to root against. With each hit, home run or sparkling defensive play, Walker would seemingly be pricing himself out of his hometown; making it next-to-unmanageable for the Pirates to sign him long-term in accordance with the way their payroll normally stands.

If Walker and the Pirates can’t come to joint soil on a long-term deal, a logical transaction would most likely be The Pittsburgh Kid being shipped away from Pittsburgh in a trade at the end of this or next season.

If that is what it comes to, then that is what it comes to.

But I know this: If he keeps playing the way he has through 50 games this season, the second baseman is, rightly, in for a big pay day and shouldn’t be shy about grabbing it somewhere else if that’s where the money is longest.

Make that money Neil Walker.

Make that money.

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