It’s easy not to be excited about the Milwaukee Brewers’ newest addition, Neil Walker.
On paper, his distinctions are few and far between. He’s never been an All-Star, never been a player of the month (or week for that matter), never won any Gold Gloves and for a player who has been in the league for nine years, he’s seen a grand total of eight postseason games.
For fans of Milwaukee baseball, he’s also not four-time All-Star Ian Kinsler, and maybe even worse, returns to Miller Park with a long-standing distinction as a Brewers killer (.400/.444/.760).
But that doesn’t mean he has no value.
While his modest resume lists only a 2014 Silver Slugger and his pedigree as a first round draft pick back in 2004, Walker has undoubtedly been at least one very important thing: a model of consistency.
Over the years, he’s rarely shied away from his career line of .273/.339/.437. While his numbers are not eye-popping, his 162-game average (80 R, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 5 SB) shows that he doesn’t need to be flashy to be productive.
His inaugural appearance in blue and yellow showed that same potential, as he went 2-for-4 in Sunday afternoon’s win over the Cincinnati Reds. Had things played out a little differently — an error in the bottom of the first and Ryan Braun caught stealing third base in the bottom of the third — he may also have two RBI to his credit as well.
But circumstance aside, Walker also fits into the Brewers lineup with a trait general manager David Stearns has always placed a premium on: positional versatility. He may have spent a majority of his career manning second base with just-above-league-average defensive metrics, but he does have the ability to shift to either of the corners with similar success.
Despite enjoying hot streaks from both Eric Sogard and Jonathan Villar, second base has largely been a black hole of production this season, as evidenced by their position in the bottom third of the league. While there may not be enough time left in the season to change the numbers, Walker does have the potential to change the narrative in a meaningful way.
The transaction, which was completed as recently as Saturday, was met with varying degrees of wonder, disappointment and confusion, and for good reason.
Publicly, the team had leaked little about their growing interest in the veteran and given his perceived mediocrity, he’s seemed to stir little genuine excitement from the fanbase, one that is still largely split between a commitment to win any way possible and a desire to stand pat with the team (and prospects) at hand.
Plus, given any significant playing time, Walker could diminish Villar’s value before the latter is able to rebound from a season that has left him near the bottom of the league in a significant number of offensive categories.
Given the price, which is still loosely termed as cash and a player to be named later, the trade could still go either way. Even if the New York Mets do decide to eat some or all of his salary, that could also mean the Brewers will have to give up a much better prospect in return — one that could leave the fanbase wondering why they gave up so much for a rental in a year where the team would be entering the playoffs with some of the worst odds to push deep into October.
Of course, only time and details will truly spell out the value Walker will generate for the Brewers.
In the meantime, the trade still has to be taken at face value, meaning condemnation is as useless as hope.
As it stands, Walker remains both an appeasement of upper management and gung-ho fans, but one who has the potential to at least bring a bit of excitement back to Milwaukee as the horizon of postseason baseball looms in the not-so-distant future.
Jonathan Powell is a co-founder and lead writer for Bronx to Bushville.