The Kansas City Royals suck. Some of you might be a little taken back by the forwardness of that statement, but you should not be for two reasons. First, because there are no true swears in that sentence, and second because the Royals have sucked so bad that they absolutely deserve an entire encyclopedia worth of swears.
Put it this way: 2004 through 2006 is widely considered to be the worst and most painful stretch in Royals history. The team lost 310 games, at least 100 a year, and the teams were stacked with a parade of no-name players who were, to put it simply, not Major League caliber. Dark times, it was.
And yet, the recent Royals teams have been just as bad. See, from 2004 through 2006, the Royals had a winning percentage of .362. Since 2018, the Royals’ winning percentage has been, um, .362. That’s right—we’re living in a world where there is a global pandemic, but also the Royals are doing an encore of one of the worst three-year stretches of any franchise in modern MLB history. At least we have Patrick Mahomes?
Yesterday, the strangely active 2020 trade deadline came and went. The Royals had participated somewhat, sending Brett Phillips off to the Tampa Bay Rays, and in shipping Trevor Rosenthal to the west coast as Kansas City became one of the teams involved in the San Diego Padres Deadline Bonanza.
But the trade deadline came and went without the Royals cashing in on their true asset: Whit Merrifield. Yes, you could argue that Danny Duffy, Greg Holland, Jorge Soler, and even Josh Staumont were also valuable trade assets, all four had reasons why the Royals would want to keep them or reasons why another team would show hesitancy.
Merrifield, though, could not be a more perfect trade piece. Throughout his career, he has produced 3.5 Wins Above Replacement per 150 games, and has produced consistently. As a true superutility player, he can competently contribute at a half dozen positions around the diamond. He is under contract for two more seasons at a reasonable rate of $10.25 million—total.
But Merrifield isn’t just a perfect trade piece for other teams. Merrifield is a perfect trade piece for the Royals, in their specific situation, for their timeline. At 31 years of age, the Royals don’t have to worry about Merrifield burning them in the future or for signing his big contract elsewhere; they have already gotten the maximum value out of Merrifield.
Furthermore, and most importantly, the prospects that the Royals would get for Merrifield would better align with their timeline for competition. Remember, it’s not just about winning in 2021 or 2022—the Royals should be looking forward further, to 2023 and 2024 and 2025 and beyond. Merrifield won’t be a part of those years even if Kansas City wins the division in 2022. But you know who would be? The prospects they would get back. Remember, the Royals’ top prospects—Asa Lacy, Daniel Lynch, and Bobby Witt, Jr.—won’t make the team until next year at the earliest. And as Royals fans know by witnessing Adalberto Mondesi’s trajectory, and witnessing Brady Singer and Kris Bubic encounter their own share of growing pains, you cannot count on prospects to be an immediate silver bullet.
Of course, this calculus is really unchanged since the 2018 offseason, when the Royals were coming off one 100-loss season. They elected not to cash in on Whit at the trade deadline in 2019 when they were halfway through their second 100-loss season, nor at the end of the year when they were finished with their second 100-loss season, nor now when they would be barrelling towards their third 100-loss season but for a Covid-shortened campaign (the Royals are currently playing at a 102-loss pace).
Additionally, it’s not like Merrifield is devoid of suitors—teams want to acquire him as much now as they did two years ago. And the Royals are wasting Whit’s talents right now when he could be contributing in a playoff race. He deserves that much, at least.
Trading Whit will not be the catalyst that propels the Royals’ rebuild to success, and not trading him will not be the reason that the rebuild fails. That depends on young Royals like Nicky Lopez, Mondesi, Singer, Bubic, and beyond. In addition, the decision to trade or not trade Merrifield is not indicative that Dayton Moore is a good or bad GM.
But not trading Merrifield is inexcusable at this point. The Royals will suck without him, but the Royals already suck with him. Another trade deadline came and went with the Royals refusing to get better when it really matters, and even though everyone could see it coming it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.