The Whit Merrifield path is one the KC Royals don't need to follow

Reuniting with their former star just isn't necessary.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The prospect of the KC Royals pursuing former Kansas City standout and current free agent Whit Merrifield hasn't sparked much discussion around baseball's Hot Stove this winter. The idea gets some occasional social media and blog play, then disappears almost as quickly as it surfaced.

But nowhere has the notion of a Merrifield-Royals reunion been more forcefully and logically promoted than on a Friday episode of Just Baseball's "The Just Baseball Show" when co-host Peter Appel brought it up and pointed out the potential merits of bringing Merrifield back to Kansas City.

The concept of Merrifield returning to the Royals isn't unsound. He's unquestionably competent at the plate and in the field; his unique versatility is his most valuable asset. General manager J.J. Picollo, who's masterfully retooling his team's roster this winter, would be remiss if he didn't give Merrifield some thought.

Signing him, though, is a different matter.

The KC Royals don't need to pursue Whit Merrifield

Make no mistake about Merrifield — he's an excellent player who served the Royals well. No Royal other than Merrifield has been so competent at so many different positions, and his .286 average and 174 stolen bases over parts of seven Kansas City seasons, during which he twice led the major league in hits, prove his ability with the bat. Merrifield is also a three-time All-Star, and the .274 he's hit since the Royals dealt him to Toronto at the 2022 trade deadline strongly suggests he isn't washed up.

Despite all that, though, Merrifield isn't a "must have" for the Royals. While versatility is a plus and something Kansas City always treasures, the team's current inventory of players capable of competently playing multiple positions isn't short. Third baseman Maikel Garcia can play the hot corner, shortstop, and second. Nick Loftin, who hit .323 with a .368 OBP in 19 games after the club called up last September, is the organization's fifth-best prospect per MLB Pipeline and has done everything in pro ball but play right field, catch, and pitch.

And as one of his first moves this offseason, Picollo sgned established big league utility man Garrett Hampson. Hampson comes to Kansas City on the heels of a good .276, .349 OBP 2023 campaign with the Marlins.

Add the fact that the Royals also have others who can move around the diamond. And even with the uncertainty surrounding Michael Massy at second base, pursuing Merrifield seems like a move that will fill no pressing need.

Then there's Merrifield's age. He'll turn 35 this month, an point at which many players are in decline or on the verge of it. Merrifield can still play and play well, but his presence on the Kansas City roster would block some younger player with a potentially longer Royal tenure — it's unlikely any interest the club might have in Merrifield would, at his age, extend far into the future.

At the end of the day, then, and although some logic supports Picollo offering Merrifield the chance to come back to the Royals, it certainly isn't something the club needs, or really should, do. They have too many other options.

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