The KC Royals have had one of the best utility players since Whit Merrifield made his big league debut in 2016. With his upcoming move to center field, should the club try to find a Merrifield-type player to be its 26th man?
Whit Merrifield is the kind of player managers dream about, a nose-to-the-grindstone, level-headed, lead-by-example All-Star who, it just so happens, led the big leagues in hits two straight seasons and can play just about any position. But while he is the stuff of other managers’ dreams, Merrifield is Mike Matheny’s reality, the player he knows can, and will, do anything, and play anywhere, he needs him to.
But Merrifield’s jack of all trades role will, if plans laid by the Royals’ offseason acquisition of Maikel Franco succeed, diminish this season–the club obtained Franco to play third base, forcing Hunter Dozier to right field and Merrifield, who was expected to see considerable time in right, to center. If those moves go as well as the Royals hope, Merrifield won’t be as available to play elsewhere as he has been. Although he could fill in at other positions on occasion, the club clearly doesn’t plan to have Merrifield moving around the diamond regularly.
With their resident master utility man assuming a different role, it makes perfect sense for the KC Royals to search for another, especially with their new roster spot–a versatile player seems tailor-made for the 26th man. Replacing Merrifield is a most difficult proposition, however, one that could test General Manager Dayton Moore’s acquisition prowess and force new owner John Sherman to dip into his coffers. It probably won’t be possible to get a Merrifield–a highly versatile player with an excellent bat and glove.
Three players come immediately to mind–Ben Zobrist, Wilmer Flores and Brock Holt. All are established utility players who more than hold their own offensively and defensively and Zobrist would be a sentimental favorite to return to the club he helped to a World Series title in 2016. But Zobrist seems content not to play this season; Flores, identified before in this space as a possible Royals’ target, recently signed with San Francisco; and it appears Holt, who’s played all nine positions in the majors, will sign with Milwaukee.
With Zobrist, Flores and Holt off the market, the next choice might be Tim Beckham, a six-year veteran most recently of Seattle. He’s played every infield position, left field, and DH; it wouldn’t be a stretch for him to play right, although the Royals may, depending on how they choose to deploy the 26th man, have enough roster room to carry more than the usual complement of extra outfielders. He doesn’t hit well enough to play every day (.249 career average) but his 22 homers in 2017 and 15 in ’19 prove he has some pop. His defense, however, needs improvement.
But there is a downside to Beckham–he has 32 games remaining to serve of an 80-game PED-related suspension imposed last August. Although the Royals have forgiven such suspensions in the past, he couldn’t play until May