By: Chris Larson
Yesterday evening, it was announced that the Kansas City Royals had reached a 4-year buyout with second baseman, Whit Merrifield. The team and Merrifield agreed to the reported deal that is expected to be a little north of $16.25 million dollars and include $2 million dollars in incentives, along with a potential, fifth-year that would push the deal to around $30 million dollars.
Some might simply view the new deal as an extension for Merrifield, but rather than go year-to-year in arbitration, Whit Merrifield, along with the Kansas City Royals, simply bought out the upcoming pre-arbitration season, as well as, all three of Merrifield's arbitration years. If there is indeed a fifth-year, as is being reported by multiple outlets, then that would be the year in which Merrifield was poised to hit free agency.
Merrifield, is heading into his age 30 season, meaning that the deal covers him until he is 34 years old. Depending on what happens with the fifth-year part of the deal, Merrifield would be covered through his age 35 season or hit the open market at that age, which could potentially impact him, but that's nothing that anyone needs to worry about right now. Rather, the point is that Merrifield has a deal that he is comfortable with, the Kansas City Royals have a deal they are comfortable with financially, and both parties are reunited in a happy marriage that should bring back nice dividends.
From the big picture, Whit Merrifield is simply leaning towards having security with this deal and now has guaranteed money rather than gambling on himself and hoping that he continues to perform at the level that he did last season. That's not to take anything away from Merrifield's skill set or to deduct points away from the impact that he has on a, rebuilding Kansas City Royals team, that now has a clearer image of who they want to build around moving forward.
If you recall, Whit Merrifield finished last season batting: .304/.367/.438 over the span of 707 plate appearances with an American League leading 192 hits, 43 doubles, 3 triples, 12 home runs, 60 RBI, 61 walks, and 45 stolen bases, another stat category that Merrifield, led the American League in last year. In total, that gave Merrifield an OPS+ value of (121) on the year, along with a Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value, of (5.5).
While Merrifield is entering his age 30 season, that doesn't necessarily mean that he is hitting the wall, a notion that has seemed to come into light more and more over the past handful of offseasons. Rather, given the career year that Merrifield is just coming off of, it could be a sign that he is only starting to enter his peak and will have a handful of stellar seasons still left in the tank. After all, players typically peak between the age of 28-33 which means that he may very well exceed those stats this coming season and for the next 2 or 3 seasons thereafter.
When you go back to 2016, when Whit Merrifield first made his MLB debut with the Kansas City Royals, Merrifield ranks third among qualified second baseman with 87 stolen bases, has the second highest base running score (BsR) (15.5), and has an offensive value of (32.7), the 6th highest in that category, over that span. Simply put, that's a pretty good track record for someone that doesn't get a lot of nationwide attention and is something that the Kansas City Royals obviously value, given the expected deal they just agreed to.
From a team picture, the Kansas City Royals now have someone they can view as a pillar moving forward and a permanent part of the picture, as they attempt to continue to find their identity and navigate through the rebuild process. While the Royals might not necessarily win another World Series Championship before Merrifield's deal concludes, that doesn't mean that it will be a total waste by any means.
Consider the fact that just this offseason, the Kansas City Royals inked, Billy Hamilton, to a deal to bring validity to their centerfield situation. Hamilton had just been released, about a week prior by the Cincinnati Reds, but when you combine Merrifield and Hamilton at the top of the Royals lineup, there is plenty of speed and athleticism that will result. Furthermore, when you add shortstop, Adalberto Mondesi, to the duo, the Royals will receive even more speed and athleticism.
To help illustrate that point, consider that Merrifield, as previously mentioned, led the American League with 45 stolen bases last season. On the other hand, the aforementioned, Adalberto Mondesi, racked up 32 stolen bases over 75 games, while Billy Hamilton recorded 34 stolen bases with the Cincinnati Reds, the second highest amount in the National League, behind only Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals. In total, that is 111 stolen bases among three players, a pretty good stat and something that all of the old school baseball fans out there can relish and celebrate about. Therefore, knowing all of that, it would not be a surprise one bit if the Kansas City Royals led all of baseball in stolen bases this coming season and if they won a number of games due to that speed at the top of the lineup.
Beyond the three players mentioned above, you can't discount catcher, Salvador Perez, from the equation either. Perez might not have the best base running skills, but he is a tremendous leader in the clubhouse, knows how to lead a pitching staff, and has all of the qualities of being a key guy for the Kansas City Royals moving forward. Perez, who won't hit free agency until 2022, is someone that has always been highly regarded by Royals General Manager, Dayton Moore, throughout his tenure in Kansas City and that doesn't look like it's changed one bit given that the team has been adamant about keeping him even through a rebuild.
In the end, the Kansas City Royals might be in the midst of a cloudy rebuild process at the moment, but that doesn't mean that their future is doomed or that things are getting murkier by the day. Rather, the Royals, bought out the arbitration years of a much needed, pillar to their team yesterday evening and now have a nice core to build around moving forward.
For now, the Royals and their fans can celebrate knowing that they have the current face of the franchise in, Whit Merrifield, locked up for the next four, potentially five, seasons. Have fun watching all of those stolen bases rack up this year Royals fans!