Merrifield, 31, led his team in bWAR last season and is considered by many as the best player on their rebuilding club. He’s a late-bloomer, but on the wrong side of thirty nonetheless, with 3.5 seasons under his belt as an above-average player. MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently wrote this of Merrifield: “The 31-year-old is one of the better all-around veteran assets in the game, considering his ability to play multiple positions, his inexpensive contract that could extend through the 2023 season, and his three consecutive seasons of strong production.” He boasts a career batting line of .296/.344/.445, good for 109 wRC+.
Kingery, 26, disappointed in a major way in his first shot at the big leagues, but he rebounded last year with an honest effort as a multi-positional asset for the contending Phillies. In just his age-25 season, Kingery posted a line of .258/.315/.474 across 500 plate appearances while socking 19 long balls. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd recently wrote this: “Kingery had some ups and downs in his second season in the bigs, but ultimately made huge strides and turned in a league-average offensive season.” To this point, Kingery’s career line stands at just .242/.291/.407 – but the former 2nd round pick produced a 101 wRC+ last season. At a similar age, Merrifield was splitting his time between Double and Triple A.
Financially-speaking, both are signed to long-term deals. Because Merrifield debuted on the older side, he signed a very team-friendly deal through potentially his age-34 season. He’ll make $5MM in 2020, $6.75MM in 2021, just $2.75MM in 2022, and the Royals hold a team option for $10.5MM in 2023. Many thought Merrifield would be traded to a contending team this winter, but the Royals love him, and given his contract, there’s no particular rush to move him. By not moving him, they’re missing out on the opportunity to add young talent to the organization, but Merrifield is producing now, and his story is one that might give many Kansas City farmhands hope.
Kingery is signed even longer. The Phillies will pay him $1.75MM in 2020 (in theory), $4.25MM in 2021, $6.25MM in 2022, and $8.25MM in 2023. Philadelphia also holds three team options: $13MM in 2024, $14MM in 2025, and $15MM in 2026.
Kingery’s deal brings a lot more upside, with Merrifield likely brings more near-term value. Given the current standings of the Phillies and Royals, an argument could be made that a straight-up swap of the two multi-positional right-handers makes a lot of sense. Kingery has yet to prove that he can produce a season like Merrfield’s 5.2 bWAR effort in 2018, but he’s also five years younger and signed for a longer period. Their deals, meanwhile, converge in 2023, where a 34-year-old Merrifield would be making more on a one-year deal than the 29-year-old Kingery, who at that point will have three relatively reasonable team options remaining.
Both players boast well-rounded games, with Kingery bringing a bit more pop potential, while Merrifield has superior bat skills. Kingery has swiped 25 bases while only being caught 7 times over his two seasons, while Merrifield led the AL in stolen bases in both 2017 and 2018. Last year, Merrifield’s volume and efficiency fell off a bit as he swiped just 20 bases in 30 chances. Both players have capably moved around the diamond, both infield and outfield. The gap between Merrifield’s 110 wRC+ last season and Kingery’s 101 wRC+ isn’t as great as the perceived talent gap between the two players. If nothing else, assume some age-related regression for Merrifield, while Kingery develops further as he grows into his prime, and don’t these two inch just a little closer?
Merrifield is the quick-trigger choice, but given a comprehensive look at both players, an argument can be made that Kingery is the better asset. All in, which would you prefer to have on your team: Merrifield’s proven qualities or Kingery’s rising upside? Put another way, who has the better asset: the Royals or Phillies?