The Butterfly Effect is the idea that small things have an effect on bigger things far away. Like Forrest Gump losing the feather from his book as a child leading to the tornado that killed Helen Hunt’s parents in Twister. Before you dig too deep into that scenario, just trust me that it’s correct. The Butterfly Effect came to mind when I saw the below interview with Whit Merrifield the other day. In it, he talks about the new rule coming to baseball that will expand rosters to 26 in 2020.
Whit Merrifield said if the 26 man rosters were in place earlier he would have been in the big leagues two years sooner pic.twitter.com/vbPmQ8qxu0— Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) March 15, 2019
Whit made his debut in ‘16. In his mind, with expanded rosters, he would been on the roster for both postseason runs in ‘14 and ‘15. In fact, he was very nearly called up in the summer of 2015, but the Royals put a promotion on hold when they acquired Ben Zobrist.
It is impossible to say what Whit would or would not have exactly contributed to those teams, but his versatility and above average speed on the base paths leading up to ‘14 do give this scenario credibility. So let’s look at some of the potential ripples that his addition to a 26-man roster could have led to.
2014 World Series Champions!
We all know how close they came to that ‘14 World Series title (90 feet to be exact). If I irresponsibly generalize like I’m more than willing to do, we’ve got to find 90 feet worth of improvement by adding Whit to the roster. I think I found that needed distance.
In Game 7 in the bottom of the 5th, Omar Infante led off the inning with single. Infante was the first batter that Bumgarner faced while protecting a 3-2 lead. Having Whit on that roster allows you to throw Gore in to pinch run for Omar and put Whit in at second base the following inning. Gore then steals second, then third, then Esky bunts him in to tie the game at 3-3.
Giving up the lead causes MadBum to unravel and never settle in like he did and the fate of the good guys lies in the best bullpen ever assembled. The Royals scratch across the winning run some time between the sixth and ninth inning and the Royals are celebrating in the streets of KC. This leads to a spike in newborn babies being named Whitley throughout the Midwest (because that name is as versatile as the man himself) and I get his face tattooed on my back. A tale as old as time.
Ben Zobrist never plays for the Royals.
The Royals added Zobrist via trade with the Oakland A’s after a very sub-par year from Omar Infante at second base. The added on-base ability and versatility is where Zobrist made his career. If the Royals had Whit on that roster, they would have already had all of that, as well as, solid base running. In ‘15, Whit made a conscious effort to improve his base running in Omaha and ended the year with 32 stolen bases. He could have just as easily made those strides working with Rusty Kuntz in the big leagues everyday and possibly taking everyday duties away from Omar at some point during the season. By the trade deadline, maybe the Royals are comfortable with their current roster and don’t move for Zobrist.
If the Royals don’t trade for Zobrist, then Sean Manaea and Aaron Brooks remain in the system. At the time, Sean Manaea was the #4 prospect in the Royals farm system. He would go on to make his MLB debut for Oakland in ‘16. He could have been a young, cheap, controllable left-handed starting pitcher in the KC rotation for years to come.
Manaea’s and Brook’s presence in the system probably prevents them from looking for mainstay starting pitchers in free agency after ‘15, so Ian Kennedy’s 5 year, $70 million contract doesn’t happen. By then, Whit has shown improvement in the outfield and they need to keep his bat/feet in the lineup, so they shift him to left field instead of re-signing Alex Gordon (4/$72M) because they’re stuck with Infante’s money for another 2 years anyways. Eventually, Infante will be replaced by Adalberto Mondesi at second base. The Royals allocate that saved money to extending Wade, Hosmer, Cain, and Moose, keeping the contention window open for the next 5 years. Dayton Moore becomes the new face of MLB front offices and Theo Epstein is out of a job by ‘19 after failing to break the curse.
The path for Nicky Lopez is clear
Fast forward to spring training ‘19. The Royals have been to the playoffs for five straight seasons, the payroll is around $150M, and the Royals are looking at how to lower payroll because water is wet. Since, Alcides was allowed to walk into free agency after the ‘16 season, Whit has moved back to second base and Mondesi has moved to shortstop to cash in on his athleticism. Whit is also entering his final season of control at the age of 30. It’s time to trade Whit.
They can afford to do so because of a 24 year old Nicky Lopez. He posted .364 OBP from the left side of the plate in Omaha in ‘18. Now in spring training ‘19, Lopez has done nothing but hit consistently while being great in the field. He’s ready for a full-time second base gig in the show. Whit is traded to the Cubs for their top 12 prospects in a Hail Mary move from Epstein to get over the hump (doesn’t happen). In the final day of spring training, recently retired Alex Gordon announces his plan to run for mayor of Kansas City. He wins in a landslide. The KC streetcar is replaced with running track lanes and all traffic tickets are paid for with push-ups supervised by the mayor himself.
All of this was made possible by expanding the rosters to 26 players and Whit getting his shot prior to 2016. So when someone asks you how you feel about this new rule, you respond with “How would you like to be winning so much that you’ll be tired of winning?” Wait, why does that sound so familiar?