Should the KC Royals save Whit Merrifield for their next contention window?
For a refreshing, uplifting time this season, and a year or two ahead of schedule, Kansas City appeared ready to contend. The Royals rode an uncharacteristically good April to first place in the American League Central and, except for a few days, held that lofty position for almost a month. Their losing ways finally took over and the club now looks up at the rest of the division from last place.
Unfortunately, contending in 2022 is becoming increasingly unlikely. The Royals are weak across the board—the rotation is in shambles, the bullpen isn’t as good as it was earlier, the hitting is woefully unreliable, and hot prospects like Jackson Kowar and Daniel Lynch may not be big-league ready as soon as the club thought they would.
So it is that contending for even a Wild Card may not happen until 2023. If the Royals want Merrifield to help lead and mentor a team inexperienced in the ways of real races for the postseason, they certainly can’t trade him now. Instead, Kansas City must negotiate a new deal with him or pick up a 2023 option worth as much as $10.5 million, an interesting price to pay for a player’s age-35 season.
But keeping Merrifield comes with other costs—the risk that the KC Royals won’t be ready to seriously contend in 2023, and his skills will have so diminished by the end of that season that he’ll have far less value as a player and trade chip (the latter presuming a contract extension, and not an option pick-up, got him to 2023) than he does today. Those factors alone justify trading him now.