Whit Merrifield was a tenth-round pick out of South Carolina who had to prove himself at each minor league level, was once left unprotected for the Rule 5 draft, failed to make the 2017 Opening Day roster despite a solid MLB debut, and ended up leading the Majors in hits and steals last year. This week, he inked a four-year, $16.25 million deal with a club option for 2023 that should give him some financial security. What are the reactions to the deal?
First of all, here is a complete financial breakdown.
Merrifield: 4year- $16.25M guaranteed— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 28, 2019
+2M in salary escalators
+1.6M in potential bonuses.19.85MM achievable in the 4 year guarantee. 5th year option $10.5M with $750k buyout
+1M in salary escalators
+400k in potential bonuses
$11.9M achievable in option year
“You know in the back of your head that individually you’ve got to put up numbers to be successful in the arbitration process, and that was something that I found in the past isn’t a good recipe for me to be successful,” Merrifield said. “So to have this done and to not worry about having to go through that process, I feel like is going to free me to play my best baseball and be solely concerned with what I have to do today to help us win.”
Rustin Dodd writes at The Athletic that Merrifield is opting for financial security.
For Merrifield, who toiled for years in the minor leagues before debuting in 2016, the deal represents financial security and the guarantee of life-changing money as he enters his 30s. For the Royals, it offers cost certainty for a versatile pillar as they plot the early stages of their next rebuilding process. Merrifield could have attempted to cash in on the arbitration system from 2020-22, a system that could have rewarded him handsomely for his batting average and stolen bases. Yet Merrifield is opting for security, and the Royals could be a beneficiary, retaining one of the game’s most versatile trade pieces at a reasonable rate for the next four seasons.
The question, of course, is how Merrifield will age.
Sam Mellinger writes the deal makes sense for both sides.
Dayton Moore, the Royals’ general manager, said Merrifield “represents everything we’re about.” So the deal always made sense, in theory, but for it to actually happen a few things needed to be in place.
Merrifield needed to be OK with trading a lower ceiling on his potential earnings for long-term security. The Royals needed to trust that money was not Merrifield’s primary motivator, and that the contract would not change his preparation habits or the screw-you edge that’s worked so well for him.
Also, and this is notable: the Royals needed flexibility.
Jeff Todd at MLB Trade Rumors evaluates what each side gave up in the deal.
Whatever one thinks of Merrifield’s particular outlook, in terms of skills and health, the overall situation was one in which his anticipated future earnings were rather limited. In arbitration, barring a huge power burst, he’d have profiled as a strong but hardly record-shattering player. And his hypothetical free agency was laden with risk. How might he look as a player four years in the future? Nobody knows, but odds are he won’t be quite in his prime, since his pre-existing arbitration control extended through his age-33 season....
If there’s something potentially objectionable about this arrangement from Merrifield’s perspective, perhaps it’s the fact that he coughed up a free agent season. That’s where the Royals could find some real upside, since they’ll have a chance to hang onto Merrifield for only a one-year commitment, when he could in theory be in position to take down quite a bit more in free agency.
Craig Edwards at Fangraphs also thinks the deal is pretty reasonable for both sides.
Security makes sense for Merrifield as opposed to playing out this season and then going to arbitration, where he might get around $4 million if he puts together a solid campaign. If he keeps playing well, he might get $6 million or $7 million in 2021, and then $10 million or $12 million in 2022. Going year-to-year in arbitration probably gets him around $20 million or so if he keeps playing well.
In the end, Merrifield gets his security and the Royals take a 20% discount on the likely outcome. This deal is reminiscent of the one the Twins signed Brian Dozier to four years ago.
Jon Tayler at Sports Illustrated thinks the deal may be a symptom of the slow market.
It’s hard to blame Merrifield for making the choice to secure his future even if it’s for less than he’s worth. But the fact that those were his options—take this below-market contract, or go year-to-year and hope that everything works out—is a damning indictment of MLB’s economic system. For the best years of their lives, players are paid a fraction of their value, with owners reaping all the profits. And while this arrangement in previous years at least saw the players eventually collect what they deserved in free agency, the owners are no longer upholding their end of that bargain, as the last two winters have shown. If teams aren’t going to spend, then the majority of the players aren’t going to view free agency as the ultimate prize, but as a terrifying unknown. Better to get that money now, then, even if it’s not as much as you think you should get.
Whit Merrifield hit .340 in Triple A in 2014, and didn't get a major league at bat in 2015. Sometimes we overthink things. All of us do.— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) January 28, 2019
Whit’s teammates were certainly happy for him.
Whit even had support across the parking lot.
And the fans were happy to see Whit get his deal.
He deserves every bit of this. Good for him and the Royals.— Matt Brenzikofer (@mattbrenz) January 28, 2019
Love it. Good for him and the team. Dude has been great.— BG (@Garry_Ganu) January 28, 2019
It isn’t that I want a strike, but baseball players should strike. This is insane. https://t.co/HoPzvZGS7t— Kevin (@Kevin_Agee) January 28, 2019
Really kind of disappointed Grandpa Bill Merrifield didn’t get to speak at Whit’s press conference with the #Royals— Matt (@caseystacopizza) January 29, 2019
And Whit has a message for you fans:
We look forward to seeing what Whitley can do in the future!