Mehno: Walker victim of new MLB economics

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — Some non-Tournament thoughts as you wrestle with your brackets:

After an agonizing four and a half months on the free agent market, Neil Walker has a job.

The former Pirate signed with the New York Yankees for one season and a deal that’s reported at a maximum of $4.5 million.

Look, anyone making that kind of money won’t need an online fund-raising effort. But in the never-never land of pro sports salaries, that’s a big drop from the $17.4 million Walker collected from the New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers last season.

In fact, it’s his lowest salary since Walker was paid $3.3 million by the Pirates in 2013, his first season of arbitration eligibility.

Walker’s timing for free agency couldn’t have been worse. This was the offseason when most major league teams thought long and hard about the price of free agents, and then kept their checkbooks closed.

There were exceptions. Despite a long wait, pitcher Jake Arietta got a three-year contract worth $75 million from the Philadelphia Phillies. Former Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer was rewarded with a $144 million contract covering eight seasons by San Diego.

The odd thing about Arietta and Hosmer hitting the jackpot is neither team dishing out the money figures to contend this season.

Joining Walker at the other end of the pay scale is Mike Moustakas, who returned to the Royals for one season and a guaranteed $6.5 million. He can earn another $2.2 million in incentives, and there’s a club option for a second year.

Moustakas turned down the Royals’ $17.4 million qualifying offer, thinking he could do better on the open market. He thought wrong, and now he’s back in Kansas City, where he made $8.7 million last year. If he has a big year, he can make the same amount he did last season, when he set a team record with 38 home runs.

Just repeating, because it’s worth repeating: These players won’t need a loan from anybody. They’re still being paid well. They’re just not being paid as well as they expected to be.

On the other hand, the NFL blew up on Tuesday with reports the Minnesota Vikings were ready to sign free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins for three years and $84 million. The salient point there was early reports claimed every dollar of that contract was guaranteed.

If that’s true, it will have seismic implications for the NFL. A lot of the money hasn’t been guaranteed in the NFL. That’s why Jerome Bettis took a severe pay cut to stay with the Steelers when the team was intent on phasing him out.

If guaranteed money becomes the standard in football, as it has in baseball, it will be a huge change.

There are never enough good quarterbacks to go around. Cousins has had his moments, but it’s doubtful he’ll be on anyone’s Top 10 list. ESPN analyst Bill Polian, a former NFL general manager, said on Tuesday that he didn’t even consider Cousins Top 15.

So at a time when baseball seems to be taking an occasional small step toward fiscal sanity, football could be ready to go crazy.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com.

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