"It's an exciting opportunity, obviously, with the success the Mets have had this past year," Walker said. "I'm really excited about the opportunity. Obviously there's mixed emotions being a born and bred Pittsburgher, and obviously not knowing yet the other organization. It's definitely been a whirlwind day and something my wife Niki, who also is from the same area that I'm from in Pittsburgh, and I are dealing with -- all the emotions that are coming with what's going on with new lives that we're about to embark on."
Mets assistant GM John Ricco compared the trade for Walker coming together after the Zobrist deal fell apart to how the Mets moved on from their aborted pursuit of Carlos Gomez at the trade deadline. That time, the Mets turned around and acquired Yoenis Cespedes.
"It came together pretty quickly today," Ricco said. "I think the start of it was last night. Roy Smith, one of our top scouts, was in contact with the Pirates. They mentioned Neil Walker might be available. We started talking about some names back and forth. It really came together about midday today to where we got some traction and were able to get a deal done. ... He's a guy we had on our short list, but didn't know if he would be available. We view him as a real positive alternative to the deal we were looking to do the other day. He fits on a lot of different levels -- a switch-hitter. He's got some power. A real good fit for our team. I think we're pretty happy to have him."
Walker, 30, is entering his final season before free agency. He hit .269 with 16 homers and 71 RBIs in 543 at-bats last season with the Pirates. He made $8 million in 2015, and is due a raise as an arbitration-eligible player.
Walker indicated that he and the Pirates were never close on a long-term extension. He said he was "somewhat" surprised by the club's lack of interest, but added: "I have no ill feelings toward anybody in Pittsburgh, in the organization. It's kind of the motto of how they handle their books, I guess you could say. We weren't able to come to any common ground through my career there. Like I said, I have no ill feelings. But certainly given the circumstance of being from Pittsburgh -- never knowing anything else, and coming up through the system, and having a lot of ups and downs -- it's definitely something that was unfortunate, I guess you could say. I no longer have to worry about that. And I'm excited to be in Met blue."
Niese, 29, went 9-10 with a 4.13 ERA in 33 appearances (29 starts) for the Mets in 2015. He is owed $9 million next season, then has team options at $10 million for 2017 and $11 million for 2018.
Walker coming to the Mets effectively ends the tenure of infielder Daniel Murphy with the organization. The Mets had only shown limited interested in re-signing Murphy this offseason.
"He's meant a ton," Ricco said. "Both Daniel and Jon Niese, who we moved in this deal, are lifelong Mets. We've had them since the draft. With Daniel specifically, he's been through the ups and downs of the past few years. And it was great to see him be a part of that run to the World Series because of all that hard work. He was a real good Met and we're definitely going to miss him. It's the game. We have to move on and look to keep improving the team. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this is the way it works."
The departure of Niese creates a void in the Mets' rotation behind Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz until Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery in June or July. The Mets could re-sign free agent Bartolo Colon or go with an internal option such as Rafael Montero, Sean Gilmartin or Logan Verrett.
Walker, a switch-hitter, had a .456 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching and a .290 slugging percentage against left-handed pitching last season. The Mets could look to pair him at second base with a righty-hitting option such as Wilmer Flores, Dilson Herrera or Matt Reynolds.
The Mets also agreed with free-agent infielder Asdrubal Cabrera on a two-year deal worth $18.5 million to round out their infield, a source confirmed to ESPN.
Cabrera, a 30-year-old two-time All-Star, hit .265 with 15 homers and 58 RBIs in 505 at-bats in 2015 with the Tampa Bay Rays. He nearly exclusively started at shortstop but also has experience at second base.