Neil Walker out with back injury, not close to contract extension with Pirates

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Neil Walker was a last-minute subtraction from the Pirates’ lineup today because of lower back soreness.

For now the Pirates are saying he’s likely to miss just 2-3 days, but it’ll be something to keep an eye on throughout camp.

Walker played 159 of a possible 162 games last season, but saw his production decline significantly from his rookie campaign, losing 23 points of batting average and 69 points of OPS.

And while the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen finalized a six-year, $51.5 million extension earlier this week, Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports that a Walker deal “does not seem imminent” and “a lot of work still needs to be done.”

Walker is under team control through 2016, so there’s no big rush, but if the Pirates have faith in him being a long-term building block the mediocre 2011 season means his price is still reasonable.

Giants making Brandon Belt available

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Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports that the Giants have made first baseman Brandon Belt available in a trade and says that several teams have expressed interest in him.

Which is kind of weird, really.

Belt turns 31 early next season. He hit .253/.342/.414 with 14 homers over 112 games last year due to a knee injury and time lost to an appendectomy. He has a history of concussions and has averaged only 115 games over the last five seasons. Oh, and makes $48 million over the next three years.

Yes, he could be a very useful player if healthy, but taking on that kind of money, even a part of that money, when many very affordable first base/DH options are out there on the market makes little sense to me. Matt Adams. Justin Bour. Lucas Duda. As good as Belt? No, I don’t think so. But way cheaper and requiring less of a commitment.

But hey, rumors are rumors. Let a thousand flowers bloom.