With just two weeks to go before the July 31 trade deadline, the most attractive potential trade piece the Royals have is All-Star Whit Merrifield. The second baseman/outfielder has continued to impress as one of the top leadoff hitters in baseball, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 11 home runs and a league-high 121 hits.
But it is not clear that the Royals would even be willing to move the 30-year old who signed a long-term contract last winter. In addressing trade rumors, Royals GM Dayton Moore indicated it would take a substantial offer to get them to consider moving Merrifield.
”You know, Whit is somebody that, you know, I think we gave away two or three Whit Merrifield autographed balls today. I mean, the players, the young people in our community identify with Whit. That’s really important for us. He’s, I believe, one of the best players in all of baseball right now. So, I mean, the ask would be just crazy.”
One of the teams that is sure to be interested is the Chicago Cubs, who have had disappointing play from their second basemen all season and are without Ben Zobrist for an extended period of time as he deals with personal issues. But Chicago’s Bruce Levine of 670 The Score reports that the Royals are holding firm to their high asking price.
An ideal fit for the Cubs would be Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield, but Kansas City isn’t shopping him, sources said. That conversation is a non-starter unless the Royals receive three MLB-ready players who could help them right now, sources said.
The Cubs’ farm system is pretty depleted, with both Baseball America and Keith Law ranking it as the second-worst in baseball. Most of their top prospects are far from the big leagues and far from MLB-ready. Still, they do have a number of MLB-ready players who could be expendable, but they may not be a particularly good fit for Kansas City. Ian Happ was a player Royals fans once coveted because of tremendous power potential. But since his 24-home run rookie season in 2017, the second baseman/outfielder has struggled to make contact, whiffing 36 percent of the time last year. He has spent all of this year in Triple-A with an underwhelming line of .234/.355/.407.
Infielder Addison Russell is a former All-Star and is still just 25, but has been a bit underwhelming the last two seasons, hitting .248/.318/.353, and has a history of domestic abuse the Royals may want to avoid. Top prospect Nico Hoerner is already in Double-A and may provide greater upside with a high contact approach and good speed, but the Royals don’t have a great need for middle infield help right now.
The Royals would likely prefer pitching, and the Cubs would certainly be willing to deal with former Royals pitching prospect Mike Montgomery, who has a 5.67 ERA out of the pen this year. The lefty put up 3.9 rWAR over the prior two seasons, helping out in the rotation and the pen, and while he is under club control through 2021, he is already 29 and won’t have much upside. A younger arm that may interest the Royals is right-hander Albert Alzolay, who is the #4 ranked prospect in the farm system, according to MLB Pipeline. Alzolay has made a pair of starts for the Cubs this year, and has a 4.28 ERA in eight Triple-A starts this year, featuring a mid-90s fastball and a solid curve. Fangraphs writes his power fastball/curveball combo is Major League-ready, but he will need to develop a change up if he wants to be more than a reliever.
The Royals have Merrifield under contract through at least 2022, with a club option for 2023, so there is no pressing need to move him. The Royals can dictate the terms of a trade, and seem to have set the price high. If they are asking for MLB-ready players, that could also indicate they are eager to accelerate the rebuild, and may not be looking for higher risk, but potentially higher reward prospects. Either way, despite Merrifield being a good fit for the Cubs, it doesn’t look like they can provide the kind of talent the Royals would want in return.