2019 Trade Deadline Targets: 2B/UTIL Whit Merrifield, Royals

(Via)

Next up in the Trade Deadline Targets series is perhaps the most unlikely and most luxury player who is available and who the Dodgers could look to add before July 31. That player is Royals’ super utility player Whit Merrifield.

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Previous entries

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Merrifield, 30, had an atypical path to the major leagues. He spent the better part of seven seasons in the minor leagues and didn’t debut until he was 27 years old. That part isn’t that atypical, but the fact he has turned himself into a bonafide All-Star level player since his first full season is remarkable.

In 81 games in 2016, he was worth 1.5 FanGraphs wins above replacement — nearly a 3-win pace for a guy with a mediocre 91 wRC+. Most of that was thanks to plus-defense at second base and left field. The following season, he nearly got to the 3-win mark (2.9), but his wRC+ jumped just 14 points. The 2018 and 2019 seasons have been his best to date. He was had a 5.2 WAR last season on the strength of strong defense and a 120 wRC+. This season, he’s on pace to have his best offensive season in a number of categories.

You may be asking yourself, “Why do the Dodgers want or need a guy like this?” It’s a more than fair question to ask. He’s basically a better and more consistent version of Enrique Hernandez and/or Chris Taylor, and those guys are under team control for two and three more seasons, respectively. And I will admit, a Merrifield acquisition would be a luxury at this point, but there could be some logic behind it if you want to dive into deep rosterbation territory. Allow me, if you will.

This was from a Ken Rosenthal notes column from last week at The Athletic.

“The Dodgers long have coveted Rendon (which team hasn’t?) and could move Justin Turner to first in the final year of his contract.”

Interesting. Who wouldn’t want one of the best and perhaps the most underrated player in baseball? Anthony Rendon will be entering his age-30 season and, presumably, cashing massive paychecks. The same happened for younger free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but you have to think a guy of Rendon’s caliber will sign before February. But I digress.

If Justin Turner moves to first base for the last season of his deal, that pushes Max Muncy into a (basically) everyday second base job. If he hits like has the last two seasons, the Dodgers could be OK with his defense at the pivot. With Gavin Lux absolutely obliterating minor-league pitching this season, that would push him out of a job for 2020, when he’ll likely be ready to take over at second base. That would open him up to being traded (but not in a Merrifield deal). It could also open up the possibility of a Corey Seager trade if the Dodgers think Lux is the real deal and want to try to cash in on Seager (which seems unthinkable at the moment). Like I said, we’re deep into it now.

Conversely, if the Dodgers landed Merrifield, that would make him more of a pure outfielder (left field) than a second baseman. Don’t get me wrong, he would still play all over the field, but I’d be the majority of his plate appearances would be as a left fielder. That would also mean Joc Pederson would be out of a job, but I’m not the only one who thinks this might be Pederson’s last season in LA, despite being arbitration-eligible one more time before free agency. It would also open up the Dodgers to trade one of Hernandez or Taylor (but probably not both because #depth).

Let’s make this a little easier to view. A potential 2020 lineup if the Dodgers traded for Merrifield and signed Rendon this winter:

There would still be platoons, but my goodness is that some kind of lineup. It isn’t terribly realistic, but if the Dodgers really wanted to get creative, this is one possibility. And I’d guess Lux would be sent off in a Felipe Vazquez deal in this scenario. If Seager is dealt, it wouldn’t be until the winter and, presumably, for some young pitching.

This is a ton of moving parts. I’m not one for that many moving parts, as this screams more video game/fantasy baseball than real-life baseball, but if Andrew Friedman was feeling frisky enough, would you put these kinds of moves beyond him? Maybe the Rendon signing because he’s going to command a massive contract and the largest free-agent contract (not re-signing their own free agents) the Dodgers have given out in the Friedman era is the one Pollock got this winter (4 year, $55 million).

Having Merrifield able to play almost any position on the field makes having him a great luxury for now and the future.

Cost

Merrifield signed a very team-friendly 4-year, $16.25 million contract extension in January 2019, which increases his trade value. There are all kinds of escalators in the deal, and I’ll let you check those out here. Still, his contract is a bargain for the level of production he provides. He won’t be free-agent eligible until after the 2022 season, but he has a team-friendly 2023 option that would almost surely be exercised. Bottom line: He’s going to cost a lot to acquire. It’s up to Friedman and Co. to determine if the cost is prohibitive and/or if the prospect capital spent here is worth it. The Royals, reportedly, want three controllable, near-MLB-ready players in any Merrifield deal. Let’s see what we can come up with.

Package 1

To KC: Keibert Ruiz, Matt Beaty, Tony Gonsolin
To LA: Merrifield

I see three controllable MLB-ready players. Ruiz would be the big get here. He would team with fellow countryman Salvador Perez next season, or the Royals could move Perez out from behind the plate where, despite his five Gold Glove awards, he isn’t that great. He’s one of the worst framers in the game, while Ruiz is strong in that regard. Beaty would give them a player to plug into their lineup right away and could carve out a nice career in KC, as Alex Gordon could be a free agent after the season and Lucas Duda is currently receiving way too many plate appearances at first base. Gonsolin would give them some young pitching to plug into the rotation just ahead of some of the young pitching on the horizon for KC (Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch, Kris Bubic).

Package 2

To KC: Will Smith, DJ Peters, Dennis Santana
To LA: Merrifield

This is the first time I’ve included Smith in any of my proposals. I don’t think the Dodgers are too eager to trade him, but I just got a little tired of always defaulting to Ruiz. Peters has been raking at Triple-A and may be on the verge of figuring things out. Santana has had a rough season, but he still has a ton of talent and could be a nice jolt to the Royals’ rotation or bullpen with his electric arm.

The Dodgers also have reported interest in Royals’ left-handed reliever Jake Diekman, so adding a low-level prospect or two to these packages could also net them a lefty reliever they desperately need.

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I’m not sure this is enough to land Merrifield. I’m not sure the Dodgers should be focused on adding another bat when the bullpen remains a mess. I’m almost certain they won’t sign Rendon in the offseason because that hasn’t been their MO since Friedman came to town. Sometimes, the easy solution is the best/most logical. This is none of the above, but I just wanted to lay out an interesting scenario — realistic or not — that’s fun to think about and/or discuss.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif.