KC Royals: The trade that likely won’t (but should) happen

The Kansas City Royals have a very interesting dilemma on their hands. They have a player in Whit Merrifield that will make every team he is on better. Who wouldn’t want a player like that? Well, maybe the Royals should consider being that team.

While the Kansas City Royals are rebuilding and refining their roster, they have to make strategic moves. They have to decide who needs to be extended or allowed to walk in free agency. What cheap one-year contract is going to help the team long-term? They also need to make an educated guess on when high-end prospects within the system are going to start making their move to the majors and what level of contributions they will make.

Taking all of this into consideration, the Royals are in a precarious situation. Whit Merrifield might be one of the better players in all of baseball, and trading him might be the right choice.

Since making his debut in 2016, Merrifield has played in 546 games with a .296/.344/.445 slash, 138 doubles, 22 triples, and 49 homeruns. He has a 12.3 career WAR, a wRC+ over 100 in three of the four years, along with a 4.7 UZR as a second baseman which is his primary position. He also was the league leader in stolen bases in 2017 and 2018, as well as leading the league in hits and triples in 2019.

Not a bad four-year span.

So why should the Royals trade a player of this caliber?

For the last two years, the Royals have had many rumors flying around them in regards to teams interested in trading for Merrifield. However, every time those rumors end as just that. Rumors. Whether that be due to Dayton Moore sticking to his word of wanting Merrifield to be a Royal, or simply the Royals asking price is thought to be too high, we don’t fully know.

Perhaps, though, Moore should be more willing to trade Merrifield than he currently seems. Not because Merrifield will start to decline. Looking at the last four years, Merrifield seems to be doing the exact opposite. Rather, looking at the timetable and position opening should be the reasons.

Typically, a player like Merrifield would have a position stabilized and no one would think twice about it. Unless you are the Royals.

Finding a place to fit

Last year, the Royals promoted a second baseman they are hoping will be a major contributor to the Royals and their future. When Nicky Lopez made the jump, that meant Merrifield started bouncing around to different positions, something a high-end player wouldn’t typically do.

Merrifield went to the outfield, played a bit at first base and occasionally worked his way back to second base in 2019. But those are not strong positions for Merrifield in comparison to second base. Through 85.1 innings at first base, Merrifield had a -0.8 UZR. His 631.1 innings in the outfield, Merrifield had a -5.3 UZR. Both were below league average at those positions.

So his natural position is taken primarily by Lopez. and here in the near future, the outfield might be completely full of players that will be legitimate future pieces as well. Players like Nick Heath and Khalil Lee are knocking on the door right now. Hunter Dozier, Brett Phillips, and Bubba Starling are already here and chomping for a chance to find an everyday spot. Then you have guys in the lower levels that have a chance of making a quick jump like Kyle Isbel and Michael Gigliotti.

As you can see. The outfield is pretty full. Which leads to the next point.

Timetable

Merrifield has three years left on his contract, four if you count his club option for the 2023 season. If player development continues at the rate it currently is, the hope is that the Royals will start competing again during the 2021-2022 season.

At that point, the Royals would hope for an outfield that has Heath and Lee feature in the lineup. I also have a feeling that depending on how fast Bobby Witt Jr progresses, Adalberto Mondesi will be moved to the outfield at some point, but we can talk about that later.

So keeping the timetable in mind, Merrifield will be at the end of his contract if all things go according to plan. While his salary hit won’t be crippling in any way, the Royals will have to have that conversation of whether or not Merrifield is doing what Omar Infante did to Merrifield.

What to do

I’m not advocating for the Royals to take any offer that comes to the table. The Royals do need to make sure that trading a player of Merrifield’s caliber brings back a haul that is fitting. However, the Royals do have to look at the reality of the situation. One being his age. He will be 31-years-old later this month. If a team is going to trade for a 30 plus-year-old player, the haul is going to be much different than that of a player in his mid 20’s.

The teams that have appeared most often in rumors are the Chicago Cubs and the San Diego Padres, so let’s stick with them. Both have potential hauls that would benefit the team and potentially accelerate the rebuild. We just have to be realistic about the haul as fans.

If the Royals were to trade Merrifield to the Padres and got a return headlined with RHP Luis Patino or Catcher Luis Campusano, the Royals would be foolish to turn that away. They won’t get a player like Mackenzie Gore, but they could easily get a Top-100 prospect still. When looking at the Cubs, Nico Hoerner should be someone the Royals are looking at in the return.

The addition of those players solidifies areas that could be a weakness, accelerates the rebuild, and allows for the Royals to be more flexible during the draft this year when planning the future of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Baseball is a game of chance. Whether it be on the field, in the rankings, or in the draft. Risk follows you everywhere. The risk of keeping Merrifield is the typical problem some small-market teams face. They potentially hold onto the desired player for too long, the team isn’t quite ready to compete yet, his contract is about to end, and the player that once was a desired commodity is no longer high on teams list.

The Royals have to do a reality check of where they are, and how long it will take to get where they want to be. If the Royals feel it will take 3-4 years to get to where they want to be, they need to move Merrifield during the offseason or before the end of July. A haul that Merrifield brings in could take that 3-4 years mark and change it to being 2-3 years away instead.

So let’s all look in the mirror. I know trading high-level major league players is never ideal. Especially one that has a team-friendly contract and is homegrown. However, if the Royals aren’t going to be seriously competing in the next year or two, keeping Merrifield does more harm to the team’s future than helping the team’s future.

Next: KC Royals: Rivera, Lopez, Capps shine in PR winter league

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What do you think Royals nation? Realistically, should the Royals trade Merrifield to the highest-bidder? Let’s hear your opinions!

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