Royals utilityman extraordinaire Whit Merrifield has been a bright spot on a struggling roster, playing his way into trade consideration. If he has his way, though, he’ll remain with the Kansas City organization on a long-term deal, Rustin Dodd of The Athletic reports (subscription link).
Merrifield is an unusual player. Not only is he a late bloomer — the 29-year-old entered the current season with just 1.101 years on his service clock — but he has succeeded thus far in the majors with a still-evolving profile.
Last year, he hit a surprising 19 home runs but registered only a .324 on-base percentage even with a lofty .288 batting average. Thus far in 2018, the power is down (five home runs, .427 SLG, .125 ISO) but Merrifield sports a .369 OBP. He has already drawn more walks (32) than he did in nearly twice the plate appearances in 2017 (29).
Meanwhile, Merrifield has diversified his game on the defensive side. He has continued to grade out as a quality fielder at second. But he’s also holding his own in the outfield, with positive marks on his 102 innings in center field. Of course, Merrifield remains one of the game’s better baserunners, too.
Clearly, the overall profile is rather compelling. I examined the case for a long-term arrangement with Merrifield earlier this year and he has only continued to impress. Despite the fact that the Royals are really only just now launching a rebuilding effort, the team is hoping it’ll be a relatively quick turnaround, as evidenced by their prioritization of college arms in the recent amateur draft.
If there’s a compelling case to be made for K.C. to do a deal, it’s that locking up Merrifield would not only ensconce him as part of a new roster core, but could also provide an opportunity to realize significant value. The control rights leave the team with leverage. And it certainly seems as if he’s keen to sign on for the long run.
Indeed, per Dodd, Merrifield and his representatives sought to get talks started on an extension last winter. While that didn’t lead anywhere, he expressed an interest in revisiting talks — after the current season, at least. “Hopefully it’s something that could be possible down the road,” he says.
What’s interesting about this dynamic is that it offers a tantalizing and clear alternative to the Royals as the summer trade period gets underway in earnest. The possibility of an affordable, long-term arrangement will surely be weighed as part of the decisionmaking when offers come in the door.
Of course, the club already controls Merrifield for quite some time, and the limits of the arbitration process cap his potential earnings, so the possibility of a lengthier pact doesn’t drastically change the situation. But for an organization weighing how best to engineer a turnaround, and retain the goodwill it built with its fans over a multi-year run of contention, it’s a factor. The fact that Merrifield can play multiple positions makes it less likely that he’d get in the way of young talent, too.
All that being said, there ought to be some interesting possibilities on the trade front, too — whether at the deadline or in the ensuing offseason. Merrifield would fit quite nicely on quite a few contending rosters. His cheap remaining seasons of control will have plenty of appeal, even if the true upside is discounted a bit by his age and (to a lesser extent) lack of a lengthy MLB track record, particularly given that he’s shown aptitude in multiple places on the diamond.