The offseason is an infinite black hole of nothingness, and there will be more time than is truly necessary to discuss everything trade related then. But the Royals aren’t good now, and discussing trade options allows everyone to examine how the players are doing in real time.
And what’s happening now, in regard to Whit Merrifield, is that he’s awesome.
That is not an exaggeration. Merrifield was snubbed and was injustly excluded from the 2018 All-Star Game, but it’s hard to make an argument that he isn’t one of the better players in baseball right now. Merrifield does everything you want. First, he can hit: his 119 wRC+ is pretty great, and he is surprisingly well rounded, with a good batting average, good on base percentage, and decent power. Second, he can run: Merrifield’s 35 stolen bases rank second overall in all of Major League Baseball. Third, he can field, and field with versatility: he has put up excellent defensive numbers at second base, and can play five other positions with competency.
So yes, Whit is awesome. And that’s exactly why the Royals need to trade him.
That may sound a little odd, especially taking into account the fact that Merrifield is under team control through 2022 and hasn’t yet hit arbitration yet, meaning he is currently affordable in addition to being good. But it’s true: the Royals should trade Whit this offseason.
The reason why they should do so is because of two factors, both of which are relevant for any transfer of goods or services even outside of baseball. When you trade an asset you own, you want to maximize return and trade said asset for other assets that are more beneficial to you than the asset you had.
Let’s tackle the first one: maximizing return. This is only Merrifield’s third season in the big leagues, but his success this year was extremely important. In 2016, Merrifield had a successful rookie debut. Lots of rookies encounter success, but not all sustain it, so his value was low. In 2017, Merrifield was a bit of a revelation, and he improved on his 2016 campaign in almost every way. While his value increased, he had still only played 226 career games, which is few enough to warrant caution.
But this year proved Merrifield wasn’t a fluke. Not only did he maintain his already excellent production, but he improved again, firmly establishing himself as a premier second baseman and getting enough games played under his belt to dissuade those who thought he wasn’t a truly good player. Merrifield’s value is at its peak right now, and even if he repeats his 2018 season, he will have one fewer year left on his contract, which will have a greater impact on his trade value than another season of good production will. And a higher value will simply result in a higher return.
Obviously, though, you don’t just trade players because they are valuable. That value works both ways, and that’s where the second trade factor comes in. You don’t just trade players to trade them. You trade players to trade surplus value to get value in an area of weakness. Anybody who has ever played Settlers of Catan knows this: each resource has value, and you can leverage resources you don’t need to get the stuff you do need. It doesn’t mean that the resource you trade is invaluable. It just means it is less valuable to you.
And for the Royals, Merrifield is a luxury resource that they do not need. Do you remember David DeJesus’ 2006? He was awesome that year. He hit 10% above league average, was a really solid baserunner, and played multiple outfield spots with great defense. But you probably don’t remember, because the 2006 Royals were trash and lost 100 games. DeJesus’ performance that year was like having a dining room full of booze and pizza for a cancelled party due to inclement weather. It was nice, but at the end of the day it was mostly just a fun waste of resources.
Merrifield being awesome is a waste of his talents. The Royals are going to lose more than 100 games this year, and so his greatness hasn’t gained the Royals anything. Next year, the Royals are also going to be bad (if not quite as bad). The year after next is interesting, but the Royals’ top prospects might not even get to the big leagues that year, in which case they’ll be bad then, too. And in that scenario, the only years where Merrifield would matter to a successful, postseason-competitive team would be only two: his oldest and most expensive ones.
There aren’t many situations in which the stars align for you to trade a player both when his value is at its absolute peak and when you value the return over the player the most, but the Royals happen to be there with Merrifield. His versatility and affordability will make him attractive to literally every single prospective contender, and the Royals can use Merrifield to acquire multiple top prospects to sync up with the rest of their low minors talent. It’s not the worst thing in the world if the Royals keep Merrifield. He’s a blast to watch. He’s just simply more valuable elsewhere.