Being a small-market starlet is difficult, but Whit Merrifield seems to have found his niche with the Kansas City Royals. With rumors running rampant for his eventual departure from the struggling American League Central basement dwellers last season, Merrifield made it through the deadline and was rewarded by the Royals, inking a team-friendly deal.
Four years for $16.25 million is no chump change obviously, but to major league baseball players, sometimes that first MLB long-term contract is a bit on the low side. Wanting to stay with the team for the long haul, Merrifield gave up a chance at big money by resigning with Kansas City, and that decision has paid dividends for both sides so far.
Across 101 games, Merrifield currently is sporting a .309 batting average, which would be the highest average he has had for a full season. Along with that, Merrifield has already tied his 2018 season for home runs with 12 (which still ranks second behind his 2017 career-high of 19), he is only nine RBI’s away from passing his 2018 total, and both his slugging and on-base percentage are way above his career marks.
But for the Royals, even with extending Merrifield until the end of the 2023 season, they would be smart to open up to potential trade offers for him. A very useful player at the plate, Merrifield’s defense often goes under the radar, which is perfectly fine, as he continues to be an above-average utilityman.
Having played all defensive positions except shortstop, third base and catcher, Merrifield is exactly the guy that a contending team would do a lot to get, especially someone like the Chicago Cubs. Currently nursing a small one-and-a-half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, with the Milwaukee Brewers currently sitting at two games back, the Cubbies have ammo in their arsenal to go out and make a big-ish deal or two to shore up their team to win the division.
Merrifield would represent exactly what they are lacking, as utilityman extraordinaire Ben Zobrist is currently away from the team dealing with his recent divorce, so Merrifield would have an excellent role with this team that would be an everyday one. Couple that with the public comments that manager Joe Madden made about Addison Russell’s play lately, and the evidence is right there.
If Russell were to be relegated to a bench role, then Javy Baez could slide over to play shortstop every day and Merrifield could become the team’s starting second baseman. The Cubs would gain offensive and defensive flexibility with this move and putting Russell on the bench, regardless of how awful of a person he is, would give this team a solid starting option off the pine who can pinch-hit if needed.
To get Merrifield, the Cubs would have to dip into their somewhat shored-up farm system. Top prospects, like shortstop Nico Hoerner and catcher Miguel Amaya, may need to headline the deal, although they should not need both.
Recent reports have surfaced about the rumored return package that the Royals would be wanting, and it seems to be focused around three MLB-ready players, which is a hard sell for the Cubs. The top of their system is chocked full of prospects who should be in the MLB in 2021 at the earliest, which goes against what the Royals were looking for.
However, this team has a few interesting options that could tempt the Royals, starting with outfielder Kyle Schwarber or infielder/outfielder Ian Happ. Schwarber projects more as a designated hitter than an outfielder, and he would be an instant starter and a slugger in the AL.
Happ is already a utilityman for the Cubs but currently is playing in the minors due to not having a spot on the active roster (similar to Clint Frazier and the New York Yankees), and he would be a very hard pill to swallow if they were forced to give him up for Merrifield.
A potential deal could look something like this:
Cubs acquire: UT Whit Merrifield
Royals acquire: OF Kyle Schwarber, 2B/OF Ian Happ, RHP Adbert Alzolay, SS Zack Short
A monster package just for Merrifield, but besides Schwarber and Happ having major-league experience, Alzolay (#4 CHC prospect) has had a cup of coffee in the majors this season, and Zack Short (#11) is an MLB-ready prospect who could slide into the active roster for the Royals with eyes on replacing Merrifield out at second base in 2020.
A lot for the Cubs to give up yes, but the Royals are standing tall on their rumored requirements, which should surprise no one. Given the importance and low cost that Merrifield presents to any team that he is on, the Royals have every right to ask for the farm and then some for his services.
The Cubs, while reluctant to make this deal, should do it, as he would become tied for the best second baseman in the NL Central (with Brewers 2B/3B Mike Moustakas) and someone who can turn the tide in favor of the Cubs in the tight divisional race.