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Dayton Moore says Royals will not trade Whit Merrifield at the deadline

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“We need him in our city.”

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

The Royals are expected to be sellers, having already traded Kelvin Herrera and Jon Jay, with Mike Moustakas also expected to be moved by the July 31 trade deadline. Less certain was whether the Royals would move players under club control past this year, such as infielder Whit Merrifield. Today, Dayton Moore made clear his immediate intentions on Merrifield, saying the 29-year old would not be traded this summer.

This could be posturing perhaps, in order to keep leverage on other teams, but it sounds pretty definitive. Merrifield is hitting .302/.372/.427 this year with 21 steals. His 3.2 WAR is fifth among all second basemen, according to Fangraphs. Merrifield is under club control through the 2022 season and has expressed interest in a long-term deal.

Previous reports had the Royals asking for a huge return for Merrifield, which makes sense considering they aren’t under the gun to trade him and years of club control are very valuable in this market.

To acquire Merrifield would take a premium, a package similar to the one they were unwilling to surrender for Machado.

“A lot,” one rival executive said. “Under control and cheap for multiple years. Three higher-end prospects, at least.’

“Top 10-15 prospect plus 1-2 younger, upside players,” another baseball executive said. “I think it takes an intriguing headliner.”

The Brewers and Red Sox had been discussed as possible destinations for Merrifield, who is earning just over the league minimum this year. Alex Duvall also recently looked at which contenders could use Whit’s services, and suggested a potential deal with the Brewers (although Kodi Medeiros has since been traded to the White Sox).

The Royals would have several years left of control with Merrifield, and if they are looking to accelerate the rebuild, it might make sense to keep him around to be part of that. On the other hand, if the acceleration of the rebuild doesn’t work out, the Royals may have squandered their chance to move a valuable asset. Merrifield will be in his 30s soon, and second basemen have a history of not aging well. Merrifield also has a high-contact, low-walk approach that may be subject to wild fluctuations. He is having a career season, so it is hard to imagine his value ever being higher. The time to trade him may very well be now.

The acquisition of Brian Goodwin, the rumors of interest in Ryon Healy, the college-heavy draft, and the refusal to deal Whit Merrifield suggest to me that the Royals aren’t looking for an Astros or Cubs-type rebuild, but are instead trying to take a shortcut. My theory is that they are waiting for the payroll decks to be cleared, to be rid of the Alex Gordon and Ian Kennedy contracts, and hope to compete again in just a few years.

Will they be successful? We shall see. It is hard to see how they’ll be able to infuse much high-impact talent into the organization. Maybe the 2019 draft will help immensely - the Royals are almost certain to get a top-two pick. Perhaps they’ll even have a top five pick the year after that. And maybe they’ll trade Whit this winter, or the next year.

But not trading him now while his value is so high could cost them a chance to add more minor league depth in a system that, despite improvements, still desperately needs it.