Among all the potential Cubs trade targets, one name has consistently been at the top of the list: Whit Merrifield. The multitalented 30-year-old has been connected to the Cubs before and signed a very team-friendly four-year, $16.25 million extension ($6.75M club option for 2023) this past offseason, a deal many believed made him a Royal for the foreseeable future. Some were even reporting that Kansas City wasn’t going to entertain offers, which seems dubious at best.
There are plenty of teams who would love to have #Royals Whit Merrifield, but he is staying put. The #Royals will listen on anybody, but he means so much to the organization, no one can possibly entice them to move him, and haven’t really tried.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 12, 2019
The #Royals are hoping to dump a whole lot more players before July 31, but not Whit Merrield. He's staying put.
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) July 14, 2019
Hey, maybe those “reports” were calculated messages from the Royals front office, an idea that seems even more plausible when the same outlet says the Giants may want to hang onto Will Smith and Madison Bumgarner now. Maybe, just maybe, that extension was about establishing value. Media mouthpiece aside, it would make zero sense for the Royals not to move the .309-hitting infielder/outfielder when his value is as high as it will probably ever be.
According to SB Nation site Royals Review, the Royals will absolutely listen to offers for Merrifield. But the blog’s source said any offer “is a non-starter unless the Royals receive three MLB-ready players who could help them right now.”
Whit Merrifield trade talk "is a non-starter unless the Royals receive three MLB-ready players who could help them right now, sources said"https://t.co/mALqdKuF7M
— Royals Review (@royalsreview) July 15, 2019
The issue all along from the Cubs perspective, and this goes for any target, is that they simply don’t have the elite prospects most teams are looking for in return. What they do have, however, is redundancy and a big need for better production at two positions. Those would be second base and center field, areas the team has yet to address adequately to this point.
Cubs offensive production by position (entering Monday):
C – .946 OPS (1st in MLB)
1B – .898 (6)
2B – .675 (21)
3B – .837 (11)
SS – .895 (3)
LF – .824 (11)
CF – .698 (19)
RF – .838 (10)
— Tony Andracki (@TonyAndracki23) July 15, 2019
Robel Garcia has helped on the right side of the infield and Jason Heyward’s resurgent offensive production has made him a great option, but neither of those offers the kind of defense at those positions you’d really like to see. One possible option is Ian Happ, who’s been playing more second base lately as his offense seems to be coming around.
But Happ is probably never going to eliminate the extra swing-and-miss from his game, at least not to a great degree, and the Cubs could really use a legit leadoff hitter. Kyle Schwarber isn’t the answer there and none of the other candidates seem to be too keen on batting atop the order. That’s why Merrifield makes so much sense.
A bulk of his innings came at second base in each of the previous two seasons, with center making up nearly 242 innings last season. There’s been a shift in 2019, with Merrifield playing 285 innings at second, 364 in right, 90 in center, 30 at first, and a few at left and third. And he’s done it all while batting .309/.361/.500 out of the leadoff spot. You could not come up with a more perfect fit for the Cubs if you created a player in a video game.
The only real question is whether the two teams could make it work. They’ve got a very cordial working relationship, so that’s not an issue, and the Cubs have some players they could easily part with in a move. But do they have the types of players the Royals covet? That’s the real issue, though we also need to think about the idea that KC wants players who can help them now. I mean, the AL Central is trash, but it hasn’t been set ablaze yet.
Can the Royals compete next year? Or in 2021? And could they get a combination of players that would prove more valuable to them in that time than what Merrifield will? Of course, the flip side is that the Royals would get a lot younger. Remember, Merrifield will turn 31 in January and you can’t bank on this production through the remainder of his contract.
I’m not big on trade proposals, but you have to wonder whether a package including Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, and one of maybe Tyson Miller, Brailyn Marquez, and Miguel Amaya would get it done. That’s like a weird mix of guys who you’d think have no value with some stud prospects, so maybe it doesn’t move the needle. But there’s also the idea that some teams might see greater value in a player like Happ than what the Cubs have extracted to this point.
Feel free to put together your own packages, maybe even throw Kyle Schwarber in there. The crux of the issue is that the Cubs could potentially shore up multiple soft spots with a single move, even if it’s costly in terms of the players they give up. The salary sure isn’t prohibitive, even if there’s concern about a age-based diminution of talent. But that’s not really a problem for a team familiar with utility production from Ben Zobrist.
It seems like a situation that’s too good to be true, which is why I can’t see the Cubs making it happen. It’s fun as hell to think about, though.