PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker circles the sprawling PirateFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center as the picture of health. Healthy body, fully recovered from the herniated disk that knocked him out of the Bucs' 2012 stretch drive. "Did my six weeks of therapy starting right when the season ended," said the Pirates second baseman, "then went right into my normal offseason workout routine."
And healthy attitude, approaching his first round of salary arbitration amid continuing speculation about management's intention to lock him up with a long-term contract. As one of Major League Baseball's Super Two qualifiers, Walker, who earned slightly over the MLB minimum of $480,000 in 2012, his third full season, gained an additional year of arbitration. "I have four years of arbitration, and this is my first go at it and I'm looking forward to it," said Walker, the subject of multi-year talks for a long time already. How long? Ten months ago, in Spring Training, he respectfully asked media to refrain from asking him about it daily, given the absence of new information to share. Little has changed since. If one regards on-field performance as negotiation, Walker's 2012 was a wash: He was terrific through mid-August, batting .290 and ranking a close second to Andrew McCutchen in runs batted in with 68, but then the back injury compromised his status. "We haven't had much dialogue," Walker said of actual offseason negotiations. "I'm anticipating maybe we will. It's purely the business side. They've got to do what they've got to do. In my opinion, if I go out and stay healthy and play like I'm capable of playing, I'll get what I should get. "But I am excited by the fact I get to go through arbitration this year, then we'll see where it goes." Walker, of course, is in a unique position, illustrated by this weekend's PirateFest, well-attended both by throngs of fans and by Pirates players, most of whom traveled from afar to get here. Walker had to burn through a gallon of gas. The Pittsburgh Kid is not shy about selling that point. "I don't think there is a better fit for me than this organization," he said. "There's no better guy to have around for a long time than me. I grew up here. I know what it means to be a part of this organization, to be a fan of it ... I've gone through that whole thing. I'm also the longest-tenured guy in the organization." Walker was drafted into the Pirates family in 2004, one year ahead of McCutchen.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.