Kansas City Royals: How Whit Merrifield’s contract impacts the Royals

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Whit Merrifield
SCOTTSDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 26: Whit Merrifield /

Earlier this week the Kansas City Royals bought out the remainder of Whit Merrifield’s Pre-Arbitration/Arbitration years. While the contract itself isn’t a bad deal, it does raise some interesting questions.

Going into the 2018 offseason, a lot of questions came the Kansas City Royals way about what they would do with Whit Merrifield. While he has been thought to be the Royals best trade chip, the front office has always seemed hesitant to pull the trigger on a trade. Whether it be due to return, or an affinity towards Merrifield, it always felt as if the Royals never intended on trading him.

When news broke that the Royals were working on a new contract for Merrifield, many were eager to see the money involved. For a team that is “rebuilding”, committing a large sum of money towards one player is typically frowned upon.

Therefore, when the contract numbers were released it caught a lot of people by surprise. Merrifield signing a 4yrs/$16.25M contract could mean a few things.

  1. Merrifield is buying into what the Kansas City Royals are doing and wants to help alleviate any financial constraints he would add to the salary in the upcoming years.
  2. He doesn’t want to risk a falloff, therefore he is going to cash in now and sign his generational type contract now. Regardless of how inexpensive the contract is.
  3. By solidifying his contract, if the Royals wanted to trade him to a contender then teams won’t have to worry about an arbitration hearing for Merrifield. His contract is now defined, allowing teams to figure him into payroll easier.

While this contract helps the Royals now, I can’t help but wonder how this affects a future piece of the Royals.

But what about Nicky Lopez?

By giving Merrifield this contract it basically commits to the fact that the Royals are committed to Merrifield in some capacity. Whether it be for the next four years like his contract suggest, or for the next few years is unknown. But one thing it does for sure is block a future piece from getting his call-up.

Nicky Lopez is an SS/2B at the Triple-A level. He is considered to be a piece of the Royals future. However, with how the Royals are currently constructed, Merrifield is going to be playing second base, preventing Lopez from getting a call-up. Adalberto Mondesi is the future at the shortstop position, eliminating any and all possibility of Lopez playing shortstop. Which sparks the question, “what about Lopez?”

Back in November, Dayton Moore made it clear that he doesn’t want Lopez to be called up as a backup player:

"But club officials will remain prudent about Lopez’s development. Lopez, whom MLB Pipeline ranks as Kansas City’s No. 7 prospect, doesn’t have to go on the 40-man roster until next fall, and the Royals will not elevate him to the big leagues just to be a backup."

This, to me, means that the Royals aren’t going to give Lopez a shot this year, regardless of how he produces in Omaha. However, Rustin Dodd of the Athletic gives a suggestion that I think everyone is considering.

Possible Solutions

One suggestion that Dodd gave depends on how Hunter Dozier continues to develop. If Dozier struggles in 2019, the Kansas City Royals might be forced to move on from him. While he had some success during the second half of the year, hitting .247/.287/.453 after hitting .209/.269/.331 the first half of the year, he might be on a short leash. If 2019 proves to be anything close to the first half of 2018, I’d expect the Royals to come up with a different plan at third base. Insert Merrifield.

While Merrifield isn’t your typical third baseman, his versatility allows for him to be able to play the position, while still keeping his bat in the lineup.

The second suggestion that caught my attention that Dodd suggested is another “wait 2019 out” suggestion. Although this one makes some sense. Alex Gordon is entering his last year on his contract, assuming the Royals will decline their part of the option for 2020. That means left field is available in 2020. Again, insert Merrifield.

This past year he proved that he can play in the outfield, and can play at a high level. The only problem I can foresee with this plan is that Merrifield will essentially do the same in the outfield then as he currently is doing at second base. The Royals hope that their No.2 prospect will continue to develop and get close to being called up to the big leagues. Khalil Lee is someone the Royals are very high on and with Brett Phillips and Jorge Bonifacio still in the picture, that could cause some problems with the available room.

Final Thought

For me, I am happy for Merrifield. He has done everything right. He let his play on the field talk for him, he didn’t throw a temper tantrum when he was going to be called up in 2015 but last second wasn’t. He also could have held onto some resentment with the Royals dragging their feet on calling him up. But he didn’t and he continued grinding it out. Do to his ability to do the right thing, he is financially set for the rest of his life, and so are his kids.

However, I am worried about how the Royals will place him. I understand the intrigue of having a Ben Zobrist type player. Having someone with the ability to play nearly every position is a good problem to have. However, for a team that is wanting to get younger and prep for the future, having a 30+-year-old utility player is less than ideal.

Merrifield can contribute to the Kansas City Royals in many positive ways. However, seeing Lopez play full-time, and allowing Lee to get some MLB experience in the next year or two should be higher on the priority list.

The thing to keep in mind is if the Royals are able to get Bobby Witt Jr in the draft his year, he ideally would be the Royals future at third base. This would essentially eliminate every position Merrifield plays.

So while keeping Merrifield is fun and exciting right now, and while I am happy for him and excited to see him, Mondesi, and Billy Hamilton running the bases this year, I wouldn’t set my heart on seeing this long-term.

Next. Dayton Moore's use of Moneyball tactics. dark

So what do you think Kansas City Royals fans? Do you like the Merrifield contract? Do you think Merrifield has a position where he will primarily play? Does keeping him impact the Royals in a positive or negative way? Let us know below!