NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Upon learning late on Tuesday that they had lost out on free-agent second baseman Ben Zobrist, the Mets' disappointment was plain to see. Just as they had made their optimism regarding Zobrist public, so, too, did they make their frustration clear. And yet, in the backs of their minds, the Mets realized they had stumbled down this path before: Aggressively pursue a player. Watch the ground fall out beneath them. Fret. Regroup. Wind up with a deal they like better than the first one.
That happened to them prior to last summer's non-waiver Trade Deadline, when their trade for Yoenis Cespedes formed from the ashes of an ill-fated Carlos Gomez deal. And it happened again on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, when their bid for Zobrist morphed into a trade for second baseman Neil Walker, whom they acquired from the Pirates for pitcher Jon Niese. Hours later, the Mets put a cap on their day by agreeing to terms with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
"It's a little déjà vu from midseason," assistant general manager John Ricco said. "Maybe we did learn something from that in terms of not letting it get you too far down. Things can happen quickly."
This one happened in less than 24 hours. On Tuesday, after watching Zobrist choose a four-year, $56 million offer from the Cubs, the Mets touched base with the Pirates regarding Walker for the first time. Midday on Wednesday, talks caught fire. By sunset, Mets executives were laughing in their hotel suite, debating their favorite ice cream flavors, while Walker was on a conference call discussing his thrill "to be in Met blue."
"It's an exciting opportunity with the success the Mets have had the last year," Walker said. "Obviously, there are mixed emotions being a born-and-bred Pittsburgher and not knowing any other organization. It's definitely been a whirlwind day."
Walker, 30, has averaged 142 games, 16 homers, a .269 average and a .765 OPS over the past five seasons, joining Robinson Cano as the only second basemen with at least 10 home runs and 20 doubles in each of the past six. He made $8 million last year, is due a raise through salary arbitration for the third and final time this offseason, and he will be a free agent after the 2016 season.
Walker's presence does block the path of 21-year-old rookie Dilson Herrera, who would have been the favorite to start at second base, but because Walker is only under contract for one more season, as opposed to what would have been four years of Zobrist, the Mets were happy to make that move.
"[Walker is] one of those guys that gets big hits," manager Terry Collins said. "He's a good defender. I think he's an outstanding player. The Pittsburgh Pirates, he helped them win a lot of games. So I think this is a good trade for us."
In a way, trading for Walker signals the end of an era for the Mets. In addition to sending off Niese, who had been in the organization for more than a decade, the deal eliminates any chance of a reunion with Daniel Murphy -- the second-longest tenured Met behind David Wright.
But it could also pave the way for Bartolo Colon's return. Though the Mets have a trio of realistic in-house options to replace Niese in their projected Opening Day rotation, the team has touched base with Colon's agent and plans to pursue him in the weeks to come. Considering how many other back-end starters remain available, trading Niese was a luxury the Mets could afford.
"We took an area of some depth and addressed an area where we had a little bit of a hole," Ricco said. "From that perspective, this was a real good baseball trade, and what the Winter Meetings are about."
For Walker, a Pittsburgh native who has never played for any other organization, the day marked his own end of an era. He first caught wind of trade talks from his agent while running errands on Wednesday afternoon. Within hours Walker learned he was to become a Met, traveling from one of baseball's smallest markets to one of its biggest.
"It's going to be something that I'm going to have to get used to," Walker said. "Obviously, the Pittsburgh market is much smaller, and it's going to be different. It's going to be a lot more pressure. But being in baseball going on 13 seasons, I feel like a lot of the ups and downs led me to trust in what I'm doing, and believe in myself. I think it's going to be a great fit."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Walker should not see a significant change in fantasy value following his move to the Mets, as neither PNC Park nor Citi Field is a hitter-friendly venue. Though he is not a difference-maker, Walker should be a solid contributor in shallow leagues by hovering around the 15-homer and 70-RBI marks in 2016. Meanwhile, this trade will end the '16 sleeper status of 21-year-old prospect Herrera, who hit .327 across 327 at-bats at the Triple-A level in '15 but will likely begin the coming campaign in the Minors.