The KC Royals need Whit Merrifield to maintain his value to the club.
There will come a time when Whit Merrifield is no longer capable of leading the majors in hits, which he’s done twice, or at-bats, which he’s done three times, or stolen bases, which he’s done once. Time will snare and carry him off into retirement, leaving Kansas City fans with only memories.
Maybe time is closer than anyone wants to admit. Merrifield, 33 just Monday, had career lows last season in average (.277), OBP (.337), and OPS (.711,) and his second-worst slugging percentage (.395).
But dipping to those marks in his sixth big league campaign doesn’t mean he’s washed up. Merrifield played every game, led the majors with 664 at-bats and 42 doubles, and paced the AL with 40 steals. He might be slowing down, but it’s too soon to declare him at the end of the road.
Yet, the Royals still need him to be what he’s always been—skilled, hard-working, steady, reliable and productive. He’s too valuable and, at least at this point, too close to irreplaceable as a remarkably effective versatile player. Adept at the plate and on the bases, Merrifield is an excellent leadoff man Matheny can count on. Other than Perez, there may be no other more important Royal.
So it is that even if the negatives of his 2021 season signal a decline, the club can’t afford for Merrifield to get worse if they plan to turn corners in 2022.
A multitude of bad things could happen to the Royals this season. Significant injuries to key players, prospect failures, and prolonged slumps by Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield are four of them.