Whit Merrifield’s production, contract, and age has firmly placed him in the center of trade discussions for two full offseason cycles now. He is a 3-win player making barely over the league minimum salary and is old enough that the cost of acquisition would be high yet doable. Plus, Merrifield can play three positions at an average to above average level—second base, left field, and center field—and fake three more positions. In other words, any team can use a Whit Merrifield.
Normally, I wouldn’t be writing about Merrifield’s trade value at all this offseason, mostly because the Royals do not want to trade the guy. They’ve said as much at each of the last three good times to trade him, including this offseason...
There’s been a lot of trade inquiries on Whit Merrifield but sources say the Royals are not considering trading him now. Could become a more realistic option at the trade deadline.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 13, 2019
...the 2019 trade deadline...
Teams in touch with #Royals say they've gotten some tire-kicking on Alex Gordon but nothing serious enough to ask Gordon if he'd be willing to waive his trade-veto rights.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 30, 2019
And they're still taking the stance that it would take a hefty offer for them to move Whit Merrifield.
Two years ago, Whit Merrifield debuted at age 27. On Sunday, he led the majors in hits and stolen bases, perhaps quieting some offseason trade talk. “For us to win going forward, we need Whit Merrifield on the team,” Royals GM Dayton Moore said. https://t.co/oQa0RTjegL— Rustin Dodd (@rustindodd) October 1, 2018
...and last year’s trade deadline.
KC GM Dayton Moore on whether he’ll trade young star Whit Merrifield: “I can’t predict the future. But certainly won’t be traded at the deadline. We need him in our city and on our team.” Merrifield responded (on @MLBNetwork) that he loves KC and the Royals org.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 27, 2018
The Royals like Merrifield, they’ve signed him to a long-term contract that will keep him under team control through 2023, and they are not intent on moving him. The case seems closed.
However, just like the weeds in your garden or another incomprehensible meme created by Gen Z, things just keep popping up regarding Merrifield—specifically, trade rumors with the Chicago Cubs:
MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reports that Chicago is showing “continued interest” in trading for Merrifield, who just completed the first season of the four-year, $16.25 million extension he signed with Kansas City at the beginning of 2019. Merrifield remains cheap even after signing that extension (he’ll make $5 million in ’20), and the Cubs could be in the market for a middle infielder to slot next to Javier Báez.
Even this wouldn’t be a huge deal, except that it’s not the first time we’ve heard that there is interest in Wrigleyville to acquire Merrifield this offseason. Indeed, in the SB Nation Offseason Simulation, I discussed a trade with Merrifield with the Shadow Cubs. It just makes a lot of sense.
So, fine. Whatever. I’ll do it. Here are three names that could be coming back in a potential Cubs/Merrifield trade.
In 2019, Merrifield played mostly right field for the Royals once Nicky Lopez was called up in May. That’s just not the best utilization of Merrifield, mostly because he has one of the worst outfield arms in baseball. It makes sense to try to acquire a guy to replace Merrifield the outfielder, and Happ is that guy.
A former top prospect, Happ debuted in 2017 and was pretty good, hitting 14% above league average in 413 plate appearances. He was worth 1.9 WAR per Fangraphs. But he regressed heavily in 2018, only managing to hit about league average over his 142 games played, over which he accrued 1.5 WAR. Happ started 2019 in the minor leagues, but he put together his best hitting season yet—27% above league average—once he got back to the big leagues.
The jury’s still out on his outfield skills, but he’s shown some nice highlights here and there:
Happ has pretty good plate discipline, walking 12% of the time in his big league career. He combines that with some serious power from the left side of the plate, which has led to his composite wRC+ of 112 over 1031 plate appearances.
Happ turned 25 in August, and will enter his first year of arbitration in 2021 and become a free agent at the end of the 2023 season. A Merrifield trade almost certainly would include Happ.
The Cubs’ top prospect, Hoerner is a 22-year-old shortstop and second baseman drafted near the top of the 2018 draft out of college (Stanford). Hoerner made his MLB debut with Chicago on September 9 after the rosters expanded, where the 5’ 11” Hoerner played 20 games with a below average wRC+ of 86.
If that makes you think of our friend Nicky Lopez, a small-ish college shortstop who quickly made the big leagues as a middle infielder with an underwhelming bat, well, you’d be right. However, Hoerner is a bit bigger and stronger than Lopez, and he’s exhibited more power than Lopez. Across 109 professional games, Hoerner has eight home runs.
Note that 109 game figure: that’s his total number of pro games after college. Hoerner got pressed into service in 2019, bumping up from Double-A to the majors. In a hypothetical trade, the Royals probably send Hoerner to Triple-A Omaha for more seasoning. Hoerner would then be the first guy up if Lopez struggled or Mondesi got hurt. Hoerner could also be a guy that moves to center field eventually, where he has played 99 innings in 2019.
At the very earliest, Hoerner would become a free agent after the 2025 season.
If the Royals are looking to add to their collection of almost league-ready arms, Abbott is a good choice. The Cubs’ second round pick in the 2017 draft, Abbott has done nothing but carve up hitters as a starting pitcher. In 2019 Abbott threw 146.2 innings in Double-A with a 3.01 ERA, 3.51 FIP, and 27.8% strikeout rate in his age-23 season (all three figures eclipse what Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar threw at the same level). He did very well in 2018, too, with an ERA of about 2.50 and strikeout rates north of 30% between A and High-A.
Abbott doesn’t have a single killer pitch, which will limit his MLB effectiveness and could necessitate a move to the bullpen. However, he’s had consistent results, been very healthy, and is set to make his big league debut in 2020—which lines up with Singer, Kowar, and Daniel Lynch.
The bottom line
The Royals probably aren’t trading Merrifield. But, if they do, the Cubs are a pretty good fit, and there’s at least somewhat of a precedent and willingness for Dayton Moore to make a move with Theo Epstein (the Jorge Soler/Wad Davis trade).
I think the Royals should definitely trade Merrifield. He’s the only piece the Royals can trade and receive cost-controlled, big league ready talent with upside. If Moore hates losing as much as he says, he’s got a weapon with which he can jump start the rebuild. I’d pull the trigger with a Merrifield for Happ and Hoerner trade. However, until we hear otherwise, this is all mostly elementary. Moore loves himself some Merrifield. It’s gonna take a lot to pry them apart.
What would you think of a Whit Merrifield for Ian Happ and Nico Hoerner trade?
This poll is closed
Good trade, but they can do better.
Bad trade—it’s not enough.
Ew. Merrifield shouldn’t be traded.