Finally Traded, Whit Merrifield Brings Versatility to Blue Jays

Whit Merrifield
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

For as long I’ve been writing about baseball, Whit Merrifield has never failed to appear on a list of potential trade targets. He’s never been dealt, though, as the Royals preferred to hold onto their speedy, contact-orientated infielder — that is, until now. Past the peak of his powers, Merrifield is finally headed elsewhere — Toronto, to be exact, which acquired him for prospects Samad Taylor and Max Castillo.

The Blue Jays didn’t need to trade for Merrifield, though in hindsight, he’s a pretty good fit. Santiago Espinal has handled second base for most of this season, but a 95 wRC+ isn’t marvelous, and he’s had a crummy July on top of that. Chances are the Jays will alternate between Espinal and Merrifield there, and if the former continues to trend downward, they now have a clear Plan B. In addition, the right-handed Merrifield is also capable of handling a corner outfield spot on a team whose backup outfielders (Cavan Biggio, Raimel Tapia, and Bradley Zimmer) are all lefties. Versatility is great! Toronto now has more of it than before.

It’s a little weird to imagine Merrifield in a depth role, but right now, his bat just doesn’t have enough thump; through 95 games this season, he’s hitting a career-worst .240/.290/.352 (80 wRC+). Granted, that’s partially due to a slow start, so maybe he can bounce back. The projections think it’s possible, but the warning signs persist: He’s hitting fewer line drives than ever, with weak grounders and fly balls taking their place, though his plate discipline is still intact.

If the return for a name like Merrifield appears light, consider the fact that not only is he 33 years old but also in the midst of an offensive slide dating all the way back to 2019. From a trade value perspective, the one aspect that worked in the Royals’ favor is his contract, which keeps him on the Blue Jays for an additional year. It’s also dirt cheap, even for a diminished version of Merrifield. As a result, the Royals are collecting not just one, but two prospects with legitimate intrigue. These aren’t just warm bodies used to package trades, in other words.

The first is Taylor, a statline scout darling. He had himself a dashing breakout in Double-A last season, with 16 bombs, 30 stolen bases, and a .294/.385/.503 slash line, but take caution. The underlying power numbers don’t support a genuine surge, and his swing decisions are troublesome; look no further than the 29.4% strikeout rate that looms over his scintillating triple slash. Nonetheless, the speed is real, and Taylor can handle five positions. In tandem with his decent feel for hitting, his tools are enough to guarantee him a place on a big league roster — think a 1 WAR role player.

The second is Castillo, who I like a lot upon closer examination. He has a short, snappy arm action that concerns me a bit, but it likely adds a good amount of deception to his repertoire. For example, here’s a fastball he threw against Javier Báez earlier this season:

Going against the grain, Castillo’s heater features a heavy amount of tail, which you can see on full display. That won’t let him miss too many bats, but it will let him induce enough weak contact to compensate. It passes the eye test, has worked for him so far in the majors, and grades fairly well on stuff models. Besides the fastball, he relies on a upper-80s changeup that he commands exceptionally well; it’s probably his best pitch overall. An established fastball-changeup tandem means Castillo is one of the safer pitching prospects around — he’s already a viable reliever — but the Royals would need to oversee the development of his slider if they plan on him starting games.

With the player summaries complete, there’s an elephant in the room I wish I didn’t need to address but is breathing down my neck, so here goes. Is Merrifield legally allowed to enter the country of Canada? It’s absurd that this question needs to be asked, but as we know all too well, a recent three-game series between the Blue Jays and Royals revealed that he had not been vaccinated for COVID-19, which is required for entry into Canada. Toronto has given a Merrfield a shot, yes, but can it give him the shot?

As of this writing, there’s been no confirmation of Merrifield’s vaccination status. In an interview, Jays GM Ross Atkins declined to comment further on the matter, saying he would let Merrifield discuss it with his family. Based on the fact that he circumvented a simple yes/no question, it seems like the Blue Jays acquired Merrifield before confirming whether or not he would agree to a vaccine. If so, it’s a move that reeks of irresponsibility. I’m no GM, but I’d want my deadline acquisition to appear in front of the home crowd and not skip half the remaining games. It’s not as if the prospect of a U.S.-only Merrifield was accounted for in the acquisition cost, either. Parting with two 40 FV prospects for a utility bat, albeit an established one with bounce-back potential, is not a bargain.

For what it’s worth, when Merrifield did miss out on that earlier trip to Toronto, he told reporters that “the only reason that I would think about getting [the vaccine] at this point is to go to Canada…. Something happens and I happen to get to a team that has a chance to play in Canada in the postseason, maybe that changes.” Those comments didn’t endear him to Royals fans (or his own general manager), but it does sound like someone who would hopefully get his shots now that the situation has shifted.

There are a few other concerns regarding Merrifield, including an alarming dip in his defensive metrics, but the priority here is getting him into Canada. Hopefully the Blue Jays have a plan; otherwise, I’d prefer not to think about the ensuing logistical nightmare. As for the Royals, they’ve at last traded Merrifield. It’s a few years late, sure, but as they say, better late than never.





Justin is a contributor at FanGraphs. His previous work can be found at Prospects365 and Dodgers Digest. His less serious work can be found on Twitter @justinochoi.

62 Comments
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EonADS
12 days ago

Am I the only one who finds it really trashy that some athletes will say “sure, I’ll get vaccinated if not having it might hurt our playoff chances” but otherwise have no willingness to do so? The vaccine isn’t perfect, but it’s safe, and it does reduce both the risks of contracting and passing on COVID. I respect guys like Kyrie Irving, who stick to their ideals even if it screws their team over (and even if their ideals are based on faulty information), more than I respect guys like Merrifield.

OddBall Herrera
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

I count myself among those who think that getting outraged about other peoples’ medical choices is a waste of time. He didn’t feel a compelling need to get vaccinated before. If such a need came along he would get vaccinated. What else is there to say?

Last edited 12 days ago by OddBall Herrera
Luy
12 days ago

What did the comment above have to do with medical choices?
Seems like you really DO want to talk about medical choices. Because I read a comment about someone who doesn’t really believe his own nonsense, and openly said “my current team is trash so I don’t care how my actions effect them”.

Last edited 12 days ago by Luy
jdr
12 days ago
Reply to  Luy

What are you saying, you haven’t turned green, grown a horn, gone sterile, or died since you got vaccinated? Because I have.

TKDCmember
12 days ago

What else is there to say? Plenty. “What else is there to say?” sounds like something you say when you want to be loudly wrong but also want to go unquestioned. I’d also settle down on calling something a waste of time if you, like me, have spend countless hours in the Fangraphs comments section for years on end. In some cosmic sense, literally everything you or I have ever wrote in this comment section is a “waste of time.” I’d suggest taking that particular argument out of your rotation.

hopbittersmember
12 days ago
  • It’s a choice to get it for yourself or not.
  • It’s also a choice to get it or not for the sake of those around you.
  • It is not a choice for the people around you who are affected by your actions or inaction.
gavinrendar
11 days ago
Reply to  hopbitters

It reduces the danger of COVID. It really doesn’t reduce the chance of getting infected or spreading it. Everyone gets COVID with or without. But vaccinated people get much fewer symptoms or hospitalization/death.

Smaleb Cith
11 days ago

If the front office isn’t going to do a serious job of putting a competitive team together (for the 7th consecutive year), why do you expect a player to take what he considers an unexpected risk. Its the same argument as when when a slugger hits a ground ball to short. If it is game 62 of the regular season, he’s not legging it out. It is an unnecessary risk for injury without much upside. If it is to get into the playoffs, he needs to be running that out.

D-Wizmember
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

I agree that it’s a really (really, really, really) crappy stance for a teammate to take, but also,,, Maybe don’t respect Kyrie Irving either! It’s just as dangerous a position to take regardless of whether or not there’s conviction behind it.

EonADS
12 days ago
Reply to  D-Wiz

I didn’t say I respected him much, just more than Merrifield. I don’t agree with Irving’s stance either, it’s just more respectable than being two-faced.

dodgerbleu
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

You may not agree with his stance or reasoning, but – and I’m paraphrasing – he basically communicated “I didn’t get it because I didn’t have it, but if it started messing with my work, I would get it if I had to.” Not sure that is necessarily two-faced. Irresponsible, short-sighted, etc. But I don’t see anything two-faced about it, seems pretty direct.

Luy
11 days ago
Reply to  dodgerbleu

It did mess with his work. And he didn’t get it.

Smaleb Cith
11 days ago
Reply to  D-Wiz

It’s a crappier stance to have to play Carlos Santana for 2 months with 2 major prospects at the position in the system ready to play in the majors. GMDM cannot criticize players if he isn’t putting enough talent on the field to stay in contention through the end of April.

TKDCmember
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

That’s a low bar, but I guess I agree. The hubris of these athletes is unbelievable. Imagine how they’d feel if a doctor walked out on the field and told them about how their swing or their jump shot were all wrong and the doctor knew best how to do it.

This is also a very clear example of why all the hemming and hawing about the Blue Jays having an “advantage” because other teams’ unvaccinated players can’t travel there, was so stupid. Well, there unvaccinated players also can’t travel there. If anything, the Blue Jays are *more* disadvantaged.

sadtrombonemember
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

I admit I do not subscribe to this opinion. I am in favor of whatever gets someone to take the jab. My ideals are to improve population health and keep people from getting sick.

I will adopt whatever response is necessary to convince people to take the vaccine if they haven’t, and whatever positive reinforcement is necessary once they have.

Last edited 12 days ago by sadtrombone
EonADS
12 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Fair, and I agree with you. I just hate that Merrifield is being two-faced about it. He doesn’t actually care about health, he cares about money and recognition.

sadtrombonemember
12 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

That said, I admit if I had a teammate who somehow managed to tank my team’s chances to win because they didn’t take it I would be pissed. I remember back when NC State had to forfeit their chance at a trophy in the college world series because not enough of them had gotten the shot, or something like that. You cost me a chance to win it all because you couldn’t do something so simple as take a shot? In that case, you let the team down and my rationality goes out the window.

wobatus
12 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Two NC State players were unvaccinated and tested positive, and wouldn’t have played. Protocol then meant all of them had to test, and 4 vaccinated players tested positive. I think that’s what happened.

EonADS
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

NOTE: I’m not saying I actually like Kyrie Irving’s BS either. I think he’s an idiot. I just think Whit Merrifield is both an idiot AND a greedy jerk who only cares about money and his recognition as a baseball player.

Six Ten
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

I don’t think this is about Merrifield being greedy for money or recognition. He’s frankly been undervalued for most of his career because he came up so late and had an unusual prospect profile that didn’t look like he’d have staying power. His contract goes for another year past this one so he’ll be a 34 year old when he’s a free agent, not ideal for anyone but especially so for someone whose value comes in large part from positional versatility and good baserunning. He’s not likely to parlay this move into huge money or stardom.

Instead, I think this is about a sort of grumpy stubbornness that is not rare among athletes in general and baseball players in particular. Personally I am pretty confident it aligns with these players’ politics too but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether that’s true. It’s selfishness but not for money or recognition; it’s a Randian “I worked so hard to get here, I know my body, my body is my livelihood, nobody can tell me what to do with it, quit babying me” thing. It’s shortsighted and an inaccurate view of how they got to where they are, but the belief that it’s true probably can be helpful to athletes. But if you overextend that misconception a little bit past where it’s actually useful, it leads you to make decisions like this.

The thing about Kyrie is he’s already proven what he can as a player. He’s already made lots of money and gotten lots of recognition. He tried to reach higher in Boston and it just didn’t work, so he reset his notions of what kind of star he was. I think it’s hard to compare how he would handle the same question if he was at the same much lower level of stardom Whit Merrifield is. I wouldn’t give Irving any grudging comparative respect here.

Antonio Bananasmember
12 days ago
Reply to  Six Ten

You mean a population of largely white southern men who have had their ego stroked most of their lives have inflated senses of their intellectual ability? Seems…well yea this actually makes a lot of sense.

MikeSmember
12 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

On Merrifield: It’s not just you.

On Irving: I don’t respect anybody who puts their fellow human beings at risk and decides they don’t want to do simple, basically harmless, things that can help to mitigate the largest public health crisis in a century, no matter how consistent they are in their stupidity and selfishness.

gavinrendar
11 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

It reduces the risk of contracting and spreading? Then how come everyone is getting it vaccinated and unvaccinated?

BTW I am vaccinated, and yes I got COVID after vaccination, because it makes COVID much less dangerous.

Hughesmember
11 days ago
Reply to  gavinrendar

You seem to be confused that “reduced” and “reduced to zero” are not equivalent statements.

Luke I am your Father
11 days ago
Reply to  EonADS

“ I respect guys like Kyrie Irving”
Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha, bye