Royals fans and Royals Review writers have been in agreement since before the season even began: Carlos Santana has no spot on the 2022 Royals. That was true when the team described hopes of competing and it’s especially true now that the Royals have shown that the only thing they’re in contention for is the worst record in baseball. This article will not contest that assessment. Carlos Santana must go. He needed to go months ago. If hanging on to him this long has given some team the belief that he’s worth a lottery ticket Low-A reliever to acquire given that the Royals eat the remainder of his salary, then they should do that deal yesterday and count their lucky stars.
Fair warning, this is going to involve a discussion of Wins Above Replacement. WAR can be a bit of a tricky stat. For one thing, there’s an error bar that’s rarely referenced; a player that is considered half a win better than another player may in fact be equal or, in the most-outlier case possible, a half-game worse. There’s also disagreement among major statistical websites over the best way to calculate WAR; Baseball Reference and FanGraphs each have their own methodologies that can lead to drastically different numbers. For example, in 2022 Salvador Perez is considered by FanGraphs to have been worth 0.7 bWAR but -0.4 fWAR. FanGraphs takes framing into consideration because it has an outcome on the game while BRef ignores it because it shouldn’t be a part of the game. There are many other disagreements of a similar type that can lead to disagreements about the values of players to their teams.
There is one thing that both websites can agree on when it comes to the 2022 Royals, however: Carlos Santana isn’t the worst position player on the Royals; Whit Merrifield is.
Whit Merrifield is the Royals’ worst every day player
Carlos barely edges out Whit in fWAR, -0.1 to -0.2. The real difference between them comes from bWAR where Santana leads 0.4 to -0.9. You might be tempted to cry foul and point out that Carlos Santana has been hot lately and without that stretch he wouldn’t be better than Whit. However, Whit Merrifield has also had a hot stretch in there. Additionally, WAR is a cumulative stat which means that the player who plays more has a greater opportunity to improve their WAR than one who does not. Carlos has been getting days off as the Royals prepare to give in to the inevitable and let him go while they continue to send Whit out to do his faux-Iron Man schtick because it’s about all the team can celebrate, right now.
There’s no escaping it at this point; Merrifield’s time as a productive major league player is at an end. He had an atrocious start to the season that all but guaranteed it, but everyone rightfully insisted he wasn’t going to be that bad over a full season. And he did improve. But the improvement stopped and it didn’t get him to where he needs to be. The most damning part is that Nicky Lopez has been seeing less and less playing time of late because of the decline of his offensive performance, despite the fact that everyone admits his defense is still quite good. Merrifield, who again has not had a single day off this season, is carrying a 61 wRC+ to Nicky’s 58. Obviously, neither is good, but one of them is providing high-quality defense and is still relatively young. The other is well on the wrong side of 30 and has shown declining offensive skills for four straight years, now.
What should the Royals do?
While the case for cutting Santana is pretty clear, it’s less clear with Merrifield. He still offers value in terms of both speed and defensive flexibility. He’s always shown a knack for stealing bases that rivaled even that of noted Royals speedster Jarrod Dyson. Keeping him on the team as a pinch-runner and to give guys the occasional day off isn’t a bad plan. But allowing him to play every day while guys like Nick Pratto and Vinnie Pasquantino languish in AAA is just as unconscionable as playing Santana over them. You might think to yourself that Whit plays positions they don’t but so far this season he has started less than half of his games at second base. He’s started more games in the outfield plus a handful of DH games. Nick Pratto can play in the outfield. Both can DH. If Whit is in the outfield that also means Hunter Dozier or MJ Melendez are probably playing the infield or at DH, further precluding opportunities for either player to play at first or to DH themselves.
The Royals need to cut Carlos Santana. They should probably cut Ryan O’Hearn while they’re at it. They don’t need to cut Whit Merrifield, but they do need to play him much less often and Pasquantino and Pratto continue to need to be promoted in order to find out if their AAA success can translate to the big league level or not.