Since his debut in 2016, Whit Merrifield has already earned his place as one of the best Second Basemen in franchise history. In just five full seasons in the Majors, Whit has led the MLB in hits twice, doubles once, and triples once. He has finished first in stolen bases in the American League three times while also once leading the entire Majors in steals as well. He has a slash line of .291/.337/.434 with an OPS of .771 in 768 career games played. Whit has been the definition of durable in his short career, where he currently leads all major league players in consecutive games played with 469.
The biggest issue of his career thus far has simply been how long it took him to get to the Majors. Little did the 2014 and 2015 Royals know, they were blocking an all-time great Royals player to give reps to Omar Infante on our World Series teams. The scenario gets even worse when you realize Second Base was by far our weakest position in both of those seasons and poor Whit was just sitting down in AAA waiting for his chance to play. These decisions led to Whit’s debut being delayed until he was 27 years old, which brings us into the point of this article.
Whit Merrifield will be 33 years old by Opening Day next season. Over the past few years there has been a great debate amongst the Royals and their fans on whether or not we should seek out a trade for the aging All-Star while we still can. The team’s current window of real playoff hopes will likely not begin until at least 2023, when Whit is 34 years old. On top of that, since 2019, Whit’s stats may have already begun showing signs of a slight regression (Although a natural regression from his All-Star form should still keep Whit at an elite level for several years). So, what is the best option for Whit Merrifield on this team? Should he be traded? Should his 2023 team option be picked up? Should he be re-signed past 2023? Should the Royals just let him walk following 2022 or 2023? Let’s begin to unpack each scenario below.
For another year in a row, Whit will likely be the topic of focus for the Kansas City Royals at the trade deadline. If the team is struggling to even look competitive by the time the trade deadline rolls around, there is a good chance that Whit could be traded. However, I believe if this organization ever really wanted to trade him, then the best time to do so would have been a few years prior, when he was younger, producing more, and under contract longer. Unless the 2022 Royals are severely underperforming, I believe that at this point we are better off keeping him. Whit is clearly one of this fanbase’s favorite players and if he were to be traded at this point, the return that would come from a 33-year-old without many years of control would not be nearly as worthwhile as what he can still provide to this team.
Currently, Whit Merrifield’s Team Option for 2023 sits at $6.5 million. If the Royals decide not to trade him in 2022 and his production level stays near where it is right now, then I believe the Royals should pick up his team option for the following season. If the 2023 Royals are then starting to compete for the playoffs and Whit is a key contributor, then we may even see discussions about a new team friendly deal for him. However, if the team is not meeting expectations, then the Royals could possibly revisit trading him to a true contender in the year of his team option.
For this scenario let’s say that the Royals extended him through 2023, this would lead us into the offseason before 2024, Whit’s age 35 season. If the Royals are a serious playoff contender at this point (like we all hope), and Whit is still contributing at a high enough level, then I believe the Royals should consider re-signing him to a one- or two-year deal to help lead the young guys and to finish off his career as a Royal. The Royals have always been loyal to a fault, and if Whit stays on the team up until this point, I would be shocked if he doesn’t end up retiring a Royal.
Let Him Walk
This would be the worst way to handle the whole Whit Merrifield situation. This would be a disaster scenario for everyone involved and would likely only happen if many things went wrong. The fanbase and the team would both be equally disappointed. The "perfect" storm would involve many different factors that could not even be accurately predicted right now, such as a severely underperforming team, a very poorly managed situation, and many missed opportunities.
- If the team is meeting or exceeding expectations and Whit is contributing, keep and possibly re-sign Whit
- If the team is not meeting expectations and Whit is contributing, consider trading Whit again before it is too late
- If the team is not meeting expectations and Whit regresses much faster than anticipated either re-sign Whit to a short, team-friendly deal to finish his career as a Royal, trade him for much less of a return than possible before, or be forced to let him walk