After a whirlwind courtship finally came to fruition, Neil Walker is grateful to be a Yankee

TAMPA - The Yankees had a dialogue with free agent infielder Neil Walker earlier this offseason, but Walker himself thought that once the Yankees traded for Brandon Drury just a few days into the spring, any chance of a job in pinstripes was gone.

"Yeah, I did (think the chance was gone)," Walker admitted Monday, as he stood in the Yankees clubhouse minutes after the team officially announced his addition on a one-year deal. "We had some talks early in the winter that didn't quite work out, and we went down different avenues of what else might be out there after that, but fortunately, things circled back here, and I'm just happy to be here on a contending team."

Per general manager Brian Cashman, Walker's deal is for $4 million, with up to another $500,000 in incentives based on plate appearances. Even at the maximum, it's barely a quarter of what Walker made last season with the Mets and Brewers under the MLB qualifying offer, but after spending the first part of spring at an impromptu training camp, Walker is just happy to be wanted.

"It was certainly a crazy offseason, but my hope was that I would land somewhere that was competitive and had a chance to win," Walker said. "You think about some of the guys who are still out there, and there are a lot of similar stories; for me, I knew it was a matter of when I got a deal, not if, and like I said my hope was that it was somewhere that I had a chance to compete."

Walker is one of the lucky ones who signed after spending part of spring at what has been called "Camp Jobless," the spring camp for free agents that took place at IMG Academy in Bradenton - but as he admitted, the Yankees' offer, which came about over the last week, was the first and only one he actually got.

"It was frustrating, but at the end of the day, you can't control what happened," Walker said. "But this came together fairly quickly starting in the middle of last week, and I'm happy to have a few weeks to get ready for the season."

And now, with 15 days left in Spring Training, Walker will come into camp, but general manager Brian Cashman said later Monday that Walker isn't guaranteed a job just yet; the Yankees released Danny Espinosa after signing Walker, so there's one less competitor for the second base opening, but Walker still has to win the job.

Walker estimates he had a dozen or so at-bats during the IMG camp, and he will likely head over to the minor-league complex for the next couple of days just to get that total up a bit before making his Grapefruit League debut. It leaves a short window to impress, but he's already impressed with what he sees around the opportunity that awaits.

"This is a really talented group, and one thing you're happy about as a player is to have an opportunity to get to the World Series," he said. "You look around here, and this is as great a group of guys as there is in the league, so I'm really happy about this."

And one thing he's happy he won't have to adjust to as he learns a new clubhouse on the fly?

"Being over with the Mets the last few years, I understand what comes with playing in New York, so that definitely helps," Walker said. "This is a great opportunity, and I couldn't be more excited about what's to come."