NEW YORK — Joining the New York Yankees caused Neil Walker to smile, despite a hefty drop in salary.
The free agent infielder agreed Monday to a $4 million, one-year contract, a 77 percent pay cut in a deal that allows New York prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar more time to mature in the minor leagues.
Walker earned $17.2 million last season, when he accepted a qualifying offer from the New York Mets.
"It's certainly a crazy offseason, but more than anything my hope was that I'd land somewhere that's going to be competitive and have a chance to win," Walker said. "I'm happy to be here, happy to be on a contending team."
Walker, a switch-hitter, likely will start at second base and Brandon Drury, acquired from Arizona last month, will play third. Walker can make $500,000 in performance bonuses: $125,000 each for 425, 450, 475 and 500 plate appearances.
"It's just another choice for the manager," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "If he takes something from somebody over time, so be it. But again, he's getting a little bit of a late start given the fact that we're probably about two weeks away from leaving Florida."
The 32-year-old Walker hit .265 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs last year for the Mets and Milwaukee Brewers, who acquired him in a trade Aug. 12. The Yankees also pursued Walker last summer but a potential deal with the Mets fell through, according to reports.
Torres, limited to 55 minor league games last year before an injury to his left (non-throwing) elbow that required season-ending Tommy John surgery, has a .130 (3 for 23) batting average in 10 spring training games.
Another second base contender, Tyler Wade, is 9 for 27 (.333) over 12 games.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said the second-base competition remains open but added that Walker "has put himself very much in that conversation."
"We had a really good player fall into our lap, essentially," Boone said. "His track record speaks for itself. I think physically-speaking, I would expect him to be ready to go opening day."
Walker could play in his first big league exhibition game with the Yankees on Thursday or Friday.
During a historically slow free-agent market, Walker had been working out at the camp for free agents in Bradenton, which was organized by the players' association.
"I didn't have an offer from anybody until three days ago," Walker said. "I'm excited to be a part of this."
Walker will wear No. 14 with the Yankees. His deal raised New York's projected luxury tax payroll to approximately $181 million, about $16 million below the luxury tax threshold.
"It's something we couldn't ignore when the opportunity still existed," Cashman said.