Neil Walker takes $17.2M qualifying offer, will return to the Mets

NEW YORK -- Second baseman Neil Walker has accepted a $17.2 million qualifying offer and will return to the New York Mets for 2017.

Walker confirmed via Twitter that he will be back with the Mets. "Happy to say I'm back in Orange and Blue for 2017!! Let's go Mets! #unfinishedbusiness," Walker posted on Monday.

Walker underwent season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disk on Sept. 8. That likely depressed his ability to get a multiyear contract, even though his lower-back woes are expected to be behind him.

Absent the back surgery, Walker might have been able to land a deal between what Daniel Murphy received with the Nationals (three years, $37.5M) and Ben Zobrist received with the Cubs (four years, $56M) last offseason.

Walker, 31, hit .282 with 23 homers and 55 RBIs in 412 at-bats with the Mets in 2016. The long ball total matched his career high and trailed only that of St. Louis' Jedd Gyorko (30) and Murphy (25) among National League second basemen.

Walker's return for the 2017 season raises the Mets' payroll commitment, including estimates for arbitration-eligible players, to roughly $124 million. It has a direct impact on Jose Reyes, who might recede to a backup role with, potentially, some outfield time, assuming starting infielders David Wright, Asdrubal Cabrera, Walker and Lucas Dudaare all healthy.

A Pittsburgh native, Walker was selected by his hometown club in the first round of the 2004 draft. He remained with the Pirates until he was traded to the Mets last December for left-hander Jonathon Niese.

Despite the lack of a long-term attachment to the Mets, Walker demonstrated his affinity for the team by maintaining a presence in the clubhouse this past season, even after undergoing back surgery with nearly a month remaining in the season. His wife gave birth to the couple's first child, daughter Nora Vail, in late August.

Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will decline his qualifying offer. After he vacated the remaining two years and $47.5 million on his previous contract by opting out, returning for one season at $17.2 million wouldn't have made sense. The Mets will recoup a draft pick if Cespedes signs elsewhere, though there is still a chance he returns.

Eight other free agents did not accept offers from their former teams by Monday's 5 p.m. EST deadline: outfielders Jose Bautista (Toronto), Ian Desmond (Texas), Dexter Fowler (Chicago Cubs) and Mark Trumbo (Baltimore), designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto), closer Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers) and third baseman Justin Turner (Dodgers).

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.
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