TAMPA –Giancarlo Stanton’s first home run in a Yankees uniform was an opposite-field blast into the right-field seats at Steinbrenner Field last Saturday that GM Brian Cashman didn’t see.
“I missed most of the game,” Cashman said. “I was doing something else.”
Contract talks with free agent second baseman Neil Walker were getting serious.
Cashman tried trading for Walker last August when he was looking to add depth and he tried to sign him early this winter when the Yankees were trying to find a starting third baseman.
The Yankees missed out on Walker last summer when the Mets dealt the switch-hitter to the Milwaukee Brewers, then gave up on signing him in mid-February when they filled their third base hole by acquiring Brandon Drury from the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team trade.
At the time, Walker’s asking price was just too high for Cashman, who had fewer dollars to spend this offseason due to managing partner Hal Steinbrenner’s order to keep the 2018 payroll under baseball’s $195 million luxury tax threshold.
“While we were having discussions with Neil’s representation, we also were having discussions with Arizona on Drury,” Cashman said. “We made a decision at that point to trade for Drury. The financials (for Walker) were higher back then.”
By last week, with spring training about half over and Walker unsigned, Cashman received word that the price was dropping. Desperate, Walker made it known through his agents that he was ready to take what he could get, preferably from a contender like the Yankees.
Hearing that, Cashman made an offer last Friday, then he spent all day Saturday trying to negotiate a signing.
By Monday morning, Walker accepted a contract for a gigantic pay cut from the $17.2 million that he made in 2017, one season at $4 million with a chance to make another million in performance bonuses.
“We had a really good player fall into our lap essentially,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said.
“We’re glad to have him,” Cashman added. “It certainly wasn’t part of game plan at first (following the trade for Drury), but it wasn’t something we could ignore when the opportunity still existed.”
With Drury now the probable starter at third base, Walker likely will share the second base duties with Tyler Wade while also seeing some time at third and first.
“We value his abilities,” Cashman said of Walker. “We think he’s a professional hitter. It gives a different dynamic for us as we move forward and we’re deeper because of it. He’s been an everyday guy for a long time and he’ll have a chance (to start). We’ll not going to douse his competitive spirit. If he takes something from somebody over time, so be it.”
Walker is fired up about the opportunity to play for a club that made to Game 7 of the ALCS last year and has higher expectations this year with Stanton onboard via an offseason trade with the Miami Marlins.
“It was certainly a crazy offseason, but more than anything my hope was that I would land somewhere with a chance to win,” Walker said. “So at the end of the day … I’m just happy to be here. I’m happy to be on a contending team.”
Walker will begin working out for the Yankees on Tuesday and likely play in his first game on Thursday or Friday.
As of now, it appears Boone wants Walker playing different positions, but he isn’t ruling out him winning the second base job at some point.
“Look, his track record speaks for itself, but I wouldn’t say he’s coming in here as that,” Boone said. “You’re going to see him in some games there (at second base) obviously, but we feel like we have other good options as well. We just feel like he adds to our versatility and our matchup capabilities. We got better.”
Cashman is amazed at how this all worked out for the Yankees.
“My job until (the) Aug. 31 (trade deadline) is to constantly look for opportunities” he said. “I would have traded for Drury in the winter time earlier if I got the right match. We had so many conversations and it took that long to get both sides to match up and it took a three-team trade.
“All I can tell you is if we see something that makes sense, we’ll get aggressive on it. Despite the Drury addition, along with all of the players that we feel that we’re excited about having, it still felt like it made too much sense not to complete something here. Hopefully it protects us and improves us.”