Whit Merrifield’s name has been bandied about the rumor circuit dating back to the offseason, when it became clear that the Royals were embarking on a rebuilding course. General manager Dayton Moore made clear today, however, that one of his more appealing potential trade chips will be staying put this summer. Speaking to Fancred’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link), Moore plainly stated that the second baseman/center fielder “certainly won’t be traded at the deadline.”
While it’s not a surprise that the Royals are reluctant to part with Merrifield, who can be controlled for another four years beyond the 2018 season, it’s also somewhat out of the ordinary for a general manager to so emphatically and publicly declare that a player will be staying put. Moore didn’t rule out an eventual trade of Merrifield down the line — be it in the offseason or at a later date — but for the time being made clear that, “We need him in our city and on our team.”
Perhaps it’s not entirely a coincidence that Moore publicized his stance on Merrifield on the same day in which two major rental infielders were on the move. With the market seemingly cresting at an unusually early point in time, it could be that the Kansas City organization believes it has a firm sense of the true level of interest in Merrifield. Moore evidently feels sure the club isn’t going to get an offer truly worth considering over the next several days.
Moore’s assertion is also interesting when viewed alongside recent comments Merrifield made in an interview with The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd (subscription required). Merrified said he not only hoped to avoid being traded but prefers to sign a long-term deal with the Royals, even as they look like a clear non-contender for at least a couple of seasons. Whether there’s a middle ground for the two sides to find remains to be seen, of course, and Merrifield is hardly a typical extension candidate. While he’ll only have two years of service time this offseason and won’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2019 season, Merrifield didn’t break into the Majors until he was already 27 years of age and will turn 30 this winter.
The Royals, then, already control Merrifield through his age-33 season as it is, thus reducing the team’s cause to sign him to a long-term pact. Any deal that spans beyond his current club control would stretch into Merrifield’s age-34 season, and it’d be more than understandable if the Royals were hesitant to guarantee him a notable salary at that age — at least this far in advance. Speculatively, perhaps the two sides could come to terms on a deal that’d buy out Merrifield’s three arbitration seasons while also giving the team control over a would-be free-agent season via a club option, though there’s been no indication that such a deal has even been kicked around. (MLBTR’s Jeff Todd explored the potential merit of an agreement back in March.)
Regardless of whether talks take place, and how they turn out, it seems Merrifield will at least finish out the season in Kansas City. And it appears the same holds true of starter Danny Duffy. There’s certainly an argument to be made that this summer represents an opportune moment to deal Merrifield. In addition to his appealing contract situation, he is a versatile defender, an outstanding baserunner, and (thus far in 2018) a 120 wRC+ hitter. Surely, that package of attributes would bring back a significant return that might outweigh Merrifield’s value to this particular organization, especially given his age. But it could be that we’re seeing the formation of an attempt at a relatively quick K.C. rebound. After all, the club just wrapped up a draft that focused heavily on college hurlers. Trade talks could be revisited this winter, to be sure, but the decision to pull Merrifield off the deadline market is the latest indication that the Royals won’t fully tear down their roster.