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Hok Talk: Trade Whit Now

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Baseball deals are always complicated but as far as they go, this one should be pretty simple.

Yomiuri Giants v MLB All Stars
Whit Merrifield playing in Japan
Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

The Royals are dropping hints (Athletic subscription required) that Whit Merrifield will not be dealt this off-season because they want to wait until next off-season to see how far they are from contention. Of course, I’ve already done the work for them on that front. The results of projecting next year’s team, even wearing the Royalsiest of glasses, were not great. If the Royals look like any kind of winning team next year it will be because of a fluke, not because the team is any closer to competing.

Perhaps they’re really waiting to see what happens in the minor leagues. That might make a bit more sense. Except that they’ve already got a guy who looks an awful lot like a younger Whit Merrifield in Nicky Lopez who seems ready to fill a similar role, on the infield at least. Yes, they’d lose Whit’s ability to play the outfield but they’ve got a logjam out there, anyway. That’s not a significant loss.

So the Royals probably aren’t losing much now or in the future by replacing Whit Merrifield with Nicky Lopez. But they have a LOT to gain by trading Whit, now. Whit is at the tail-end of what will likely be his physical peak. There’s always a chance he’ll fool father time for a while and play at a high level until he’s 40. But it’s unlikely. And teams are trading for his likely future, not his best possible future. If the Royals wait until next off-season to deal him his value will be drastically reduced by being another year older and having one fewer years of cost-control. There was a case to be made for keeping him for this year to prove to other teams that the Whit of 2017 wasn’t a fluke. He proved that. He cannot increase his value at this point.

The Royals should absolutely look for the best deal they can get for Whit before trading him this off-season. There’s no particular rush as the off-season has just started and there is plenty of time to work out a deal. But if the Royals really don’t deal their super-utility guy it will be the kind of waste of resources that Dayton Moore has been blasted for across his entire tenure.

In regard to Bill James’ comments

What kind of weekend takes column writer would I be if I didn’t address Mr. James comments from earlier this week? Sadly, I was on vacation when he initially posted his inflammatory tweets and some of them have been deleted. But reading around the internet it appears that he went on a rant against the salaries that players command. He claimed that they were no more important than beer vendors and if they were all fired they could be replaced with barely a hiccup in the operation of major league baseball teams around the country.

And, well, he’s not entirely wrong. Yes, the level of play would drop but baseball could continue with an entirely new generation of players. And some of them would also develop into superstars in short order. But what Bill has done here is the same thing statisticians are constantly accused of; he’s removed the human element.

It might make economic or logical sense to destroy the contract of every current major league baseball player and start the league over with a bunch of guys making the league minimum - or less since they wouldn’t necessarily be a part of the union. But the players currently here have worked extremely hard to do so. And there’s one thing a lot of people seem to forget about baseball player salaries.

The league is making billions of dollars while paying those salaries.

Seriously. The league made 10 billion dollars last year. The players are the primary reason any money is spent on the sport. The beer vendors should be paid a living wage, too, but the players are the reason everyone is there and the total opening day salary across MLB last year was less than 4 billion dollars. Sure, a good chunk of what’s left is going into other infrastructure stuff but there are still billions of dollars of revenue going into the pockets of owners who aren’t offering anything to the product except having enough money to own a team to begin with.

Player salaries aren’t the reason your ticket prices are so high. Owners could drastically reduce prices and still make a nice profit, if they wanted to. But they don’t. And I’m not saying they should. I just wonder why someone who has made his name and money on the backs of these players would so cavalierly dismiss them as unimportant.

I’m as guilty as anyone of dismissing things like clubhouse chemistry because I don’t know how to measure it. Maybe I need to do better on that score. But I still can’t conceive of suggesting something like, “There is no such thing as an underpaid player.” Their contributions obviously have some sort of value or none of us would be here. And baseball profits suggest that value is probably rather high.