NEW YORK -- One of the Mets' most uncertain positions received a shot of stability on Monday, when second baseman Neil Walker accepted a one-year, $17.2-million qualifying offer to return to Flushing.
"Happy to say I'm back in Orange and Blue for 2017!!" Walker wrote on Twitter.
As expected, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes declined his identical qualifying offer, ensuring the Mets Draft-pick compensation should he sign elsewhere. Cespedes, who recently opted out of the final two years of his contract, is reportedly seeking a four- to five-year deal north of $100 million.
The Mets' most productive hitter in April, Walker batted .307 with nine home runs in his first 22 games after the Mets traded pitcher Jonathon Niese for him last winter. Though Walker's production fell off after that, he nonetheless finished his first season with a .282 average and 23 homers in 113 games. At that point, Walker succumbed to season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk in his back, missing the season's final five weeks. He expects to be fully recovered by the start of Spring Training.
Back in New York, Walker provides the Mets a measure of insurance at second base, where the club's internal candidates included T.J. Rivera, Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores. All three of those players will now slide into lesser roles, with Reyes likely to spell David Wright regularly at third base.
Beyond the field, the Mets regularly lauded Walker's clubhouse leadership, particularly in Wright's absence. By midsummer, he had become an important voice in the room.
"If there's a tough time once in a while during a game … Neil Walker speaks up," manager Terry Collins said in August. "Guys respond when their teammates have something to say, and people listen. He's been that for us."
Walker, 31, becomes the fifth player in the past four years to accept a qualifying offer rather than test his value as an unrestricted free agent. Because clubs have become increasingly reticent to part with Draft picks in recent years, players rejecting qualifying offers have sometimes experienced trouble finding value on the open market. By accepting, Walker avoids that situation while giving himself an opportunity to become a free agent again next season.
Family factors also played a role in Walker's decision. Born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, Walker recently bought a house there with his wife and infant daughter. He has spoken often of his desire to remain close to home in the Northeast. Though the Mets planned to negotiate a long-term contract extension with Walker last summer, his injury shelved those talks until after the season.
The Mets and Walker never grew close on extension talks this autumn, according to a source, but could reopen that discussion later this winter.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.