For several years, the annual midsummer major league trade deadline came and went without the KC Royals doing what many thought they should. The club refused to deal star infielder-outfielder Whit Merrifield, the man who played anywhere his managers needed him to and, as a Royal, led the big leagues in hits twice, at-bats three times, stolen bases once, and tied for the lead in doubles and triples one season each. He could have netted the Royals a nice package of prospects, but every season was the same.
But as the 2022 deadline approached, things felt different. Trading Merrifield suddenly seemed not just possible, but probable. He was 33, his offensive numbers were, and had been, in decline, and the club needed more room in Kansas City for its young players. So it was that even this writer, a longtime opponent of moving Merrifield, called for trading him late last June.
Not long after that, Merrifield missed a mid-July series in Toronto because his vaccination status kept him from entering Canada. What impact that, and his reported comments about the situation, might have had on his Royal future is anyone's guess.
Whatever the cause or causes, the Royals traded Merrifield to, surprisingly, Toronto just before the deal deadline passed. In return, KC received pitcher Max Castillo and infielder-outfielder Samad Taylor.
Judging midseason trades is, at least in a final sense, a task best delayed until well after the campaign in which they're made. Such transactions almost invariably involve a major leaguer traded for prospects; while a big league track record provides foundation for grading the former but rarely the latter, it takes time for a deal's meaningful results to play out.
But that doesn't mean short-term data is irrelevant.
Who's ahead in last season's trade between the KC Royals and Toronto?
The deal worked out well for Merrifield, who was slashing .240/.290/.352 with six home runs and 42 RBIs in 95 games when it was made. But Merrifield was back to being Merrifield after he became a Blue Jay: in 44 games, he put up a .281/.323/.446 line with five homers and 16 RBIs. He did precisely what Toronto wanted by helping the Jays to the playoffs. Expect him to play an important role for them this season.
Unfortunately, Taylor didn't get the chance to contribute anywhere in the Royals' organization before the season ended. Although he'd homered nine times, driven in 45 runs and slashed .258/.337/.426 in 70 Triple-A games, he'd been on the Injured List for almost a month when the Blue Jays sent him to Kansas City. Not until the Arizona Fall League started did Taylor see action again: he hit .152 with a pair of home runs and 10 RBIs in 21 games.
A winter's rest should have Taylor, added to the club's 40-man roster over the winter, and ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization's 25th-best prospect, ready to work when the Royals open spring training camp later this month. He'll likely start the regular campaign at Triple-A Omaha, but might make his big league debut later in the season.
Unlike Taylor, Castillo played for the Royals after the trade. Initially assigned to Omaha, he pitched twice for the Storm Chasers and gave up five runs (four earned) and struck out five in 3.2 innings before the Royals called him up Aug. 18. He started that night against Tampa Bay but, despite surrendering only a run in five innings, took the loss in a 7-1 Rays' win.
The righthanded Castillo returned to Omaha but was back up with the Royals in September. He went 0-1 with an ugly 11.85 ERA (18 runs in 13.2 innings) to finish his first Kansas City partial season 0-2, 9.16; combined with his nine-game numbers with Toronto, he ended 0-2, 5.95.
Considering the number of pitchers Kansas City added this offseason, it will take an impressive spring camp showing for Castillo, like Taylor a member of the club's 40-man roster, to make the big club for Opening Day. He may not even return to Kansas City at all this season.
So, who's winning the Merrifield-for-Castillo-and-Taylor trade so far? Toronto. Merrifield's hitting improved with the Blue Jays and he'll definitely have a major league job when the new season begins. Castillo disappointed and could be one of the odd men out when the Royals have to make pitching staff decisions. And Taylor's lack of playing time since the trade provides no basis for evaluating him fairly.
Who ultimately wins the Whit Merrifield trade remains to be seen.