Although I hadn’t paid him much mind as he worked his way through the club’s farm system for six-plus seasons—after all, he didn’t attract much attention or have the captivating promise of a George Brett, an Eric Hosmer, or a Bobby Witt Jr.—it didn’t take me long to warm up to Whit Merrifield when he quietly joined the KC Royals in 2016.
No, Merrifield wasn’t a star, or even a top prospect. But he forced his way onto my, and everyone else’s, radar when he proved himself more than worthy of replacing Omar Infante at second base and of playing just about anywhere else the Royals needed him. He was workmanlike, steady and consistent in both approach and performance, and arrived without fanfare, flash, glitter, or brashness. Just hard work and solid play.
Merrifield quickly won me over. He became a quiet star over time, leading the majors (or tying for the lead) in hits twice, triples, doubles and steals once each, and at-bats three times. Perhaps the most versatile and durable player in the game today, he’s played in 540 straight games. His career average is .286.
So it is I’ve routinely dismissed the trade rumors, and other fans’ urgings that he be dealt away, that annually envelop Merrifield when each summer’s trade deadline nears. I wrote earlier this year that even his newly-restructured contract, one that on paper secures at least another year in KC for Merrifield, won’t deter or squelch the rumors or the demands.
I was right. Search his name on the Internet and scour social media and you’ll find the Merrifield trade talk.
Ask me now, though, if I’ll join the “Trade Whit” club, and my answer is simple.
Count me in. Reluctantly.
Now is the perfect time for the KC Royals to move veteran Whit Merrifield.
Simply saying Kansas City should trade Merrifield before decreasing market value makes a deal too difficult is … well, too simple. I’ve never subscribed to the popular theory that teams should trade good players at the peaks of their careers, primarily because so many perform quite well after reaching that point, and so help their clubs and retain good bits of future value.
And that’s where Merrifield finds himself. At 33, the better part of his big league career is behind him; he’s inarguably putting up the worst numbers ever (.227/.275/.3109), making it hard to predict better years might be coming. And this season included, his batting average, OBP, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+ have all dropped for four straight years.
Merrifield, it seems, may be in irreversible decline.
But that’s not all. Although he’s played everywhere except behind the plate, on the mound, or at shortstop since coming up, Ned Yost and Mike Matheny, the only two big league managers for whom he’s played, have most often deployed him at second base or in right field, positions where he best performs and where the Royals have most needed him.
Should he continue rotating between those two spots, however, Merrifield will soon block players who shouldn’t be blocked. Edward Olivares is proving he deserves the extended look in right he hasn’t yet received and Michael Massey, who MLB Pipeline ranks as the club’s 19th-best prospect, was hitting .305 with a .359 OBP and nine home runs and 48 RBIs in 54 Double-A games before the Royals promoted him to Triple-A a Omaha, where after going 4-for-5 with three doubles and five RBIs Sunday, he’s slashing .348/.392/.609 in 12 contests.
It’s probably only a matter of time—perhaps even this season—before Massey is big league-ready.
Trading Merrifield, whose versatility alone will attract trade deadline suitors, would be a move made not just to reap a prospect or two in return, but also to make room for new and younger talent at second and in right, with the latter objective being of greater and more immediate import than the former.
Seeing Merrifield leave Kansas City will be bittersweet, to be sure, but it’s time.
Kansas City should trade Whit Merrifield.