Teams have been trying to pry second baseman/outfielder Whit Merrifield away from the Royals for several years, and The Athletic’s Jayson Stark now reports that the Royals are “more open” to trading the two-time All-Star than they have been in the past.
“More open” is a relative term and doesn’t necessarily mean Merrifield is being outwardly shopped to other clubs. After all, Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore has all but labeled Merrifield as untouchable in the past, so being “more open” than that isn’t exactly a high bar to clear.
Back in 2018, for instance, Moore said that Merrifield “certainly won’t be traded at the deadline” and went on to add that the Royals “need him in our city and on our team.” Merrifield signed an extension that offseason, and the following summer Moore called him “one of the best players in all of baseball” and said that “the ask would be just crazy” if other clubs came calling on Merrifield.
Over the past year, Moore has publicly stated that his club is moving back into a win-now mindset, and the Royals’ offseason actions demonstrated that shift. Kansas City signed veterans Carlos Santana and Mike Minor to two-year contracts in free agency, dipped into its farm system to acquire two years of Andrew Benintendi and signed Salvador Perez to a four-year, $82MM extension. Those aren’t the types of moves rebuilding clubs make.
That said, it’s also natural that as the Royals’ control over Merrifield continues to wane, they’d at least allow themselves the opportunity to be overwhelmed by an offer. Merrifield is earning $7.25MM in 2021 but is owed just $3.75MM in 2022 as part of a front-loaded contract extension. The Royals hold a $6.5MM option on him for the 2023 season as well — though that option would increase by $4MM so long as he spends fewer than 109 days on the injured list by the time the team’s decision is due after the 2022 season.
Assuming Kansas City still aims to compete in the American League Central next season, the front office surely still views Merrifield as an important piece of that puzzle. He’s hitting .273/.322/.405 with eight home runs, 21 doubles, two triples and a league-leading 25 stolen bases at the moment. That offensive production is down from peak levels, but it’s also on the upswing since the calendar flipped to June (and since the league cracked down on Spider Tack and other foreign substances for pitchers). Merrifield is also still a strong defender at second base and versatile enough to rotate all over the outfield as needed.
One would imagine that were the Royals to actually entertain offers for Merrifield, the ask would be focused on controllable, near-MLB assets. Trading him for far-off prospects would only weaken the 2022 roster — and his frontloaded contract structure wouldn’t give the team any real cost savings that could be reallocated toward offsetting that loss.
All that said, it’s easy to envision a robust market for a player with Merrifield’s versatility and track record. The Mariners and White Sox could both pursue infield help. He’d give the Yankees a center field option with a contact-oriented approach the roster largely lacks. Merrifield could bounce between second base and the outfield for the Giants, Padres or Dodgers. His salary is affordable enough that even low-payroll contenders like the A’s and Rays could jump into the fray.
Because of that broad appeal, it’s only natural for Moore and his front office to at least listen to offers on Merrifield. Generally speaking, willing sellers have set very high asking prices on their most appealing trade candidates to date. Merrifield won’t be an exception.