It wouldn’t be #RumorSZN without mention of Whit Merrifield, and the Tribune’s Mark Gonzales got the party started early in a post I missed when it first came out. Then Bleacher Nation wrote about it and my Twitter timeline was a mess of trade takes and I found myself wondering what the hell was happening. In a Q&A column around the end of October, Gonzales addressed the long-running possibility of the Cubs targeting the Royals second baseman by saying that it “will be a priority” for the Cubs this winter.
He also mentioned that the Cubs could send back a pair of players, though whether he’s indicating that talks have progressed to that stage or is just putting the possibility out there is not clear.
Merrifield will be a priority this winter, and there’s a match with the Royals involving a combination of an outfielder and infielder. I would expect the Castellanos free-agent sweepstakes to last well past the winter meetings, but I think the Cubs have a decent chance of re-signing him.
I’ll avoid going much deeper on this topic for now, mostly because we’ve already covered it here in depth on several other occasions, but suffice to say this is starting to enter Brian Roberts territory. By which I mean it’s been lingering to the point of being a running joke, albeit one that has it roots in common sense.
Merrifield would address several of the Cubs’ needs, namely those of a contact bat at the top of the order and a guy who can play both second base and centerfield. He’s also on an incredibly friendly deal that average just over $4 million over the next three seasons with a 2024 option of just $6.5 million (increases to $10.5 million with fewer than 110 days on IL from 2019-22). Even if he maxes out various point-based performance escalators, his salary can only go up by as much as $1 million from 2021-23.
On paper, Merrifield is pretty much perfect fit for what the Cubs need on the field and on the ledger (maybe not so much on the PR side). The cost in player capital, however, is where things get sticky. The Royals operate very much like the small-market team they are, which means they’re going to need cheap, controllable players in return for their star. Based on Gonazales’ claim of a fit with an infielder and outfielder, you have to figure we’re looking at Nico Hoerner and probably Kyle Schwarber or Ian Happ.
Schwarber has clearly posted much better numbers, but he’s projected to earn $8 million in arbitration this year before getting another raise for 2021. Happ is more versatile defensively and is under control for two more years than Schwarber, so he seems to fit that KC mold just a little more closely. As for Hoerner, he’s the only infielder the Cubs have who checks all the boxes of being young, cheap, and expendable from an emotional standpoint.
Or maybe the Royals have had their eye on Daniel Descalso since hiring Mike Matheny as manager, thereby making ol’ Danny D the big trade chip. Or not. We know Javy Báez isn’t being moved in a Merrifield deal, nor are Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, and Addison Russell certainly isn’t bringing back any sort of value in return. That leaves David Bote, but again, not enough for Merrifield.
Now I’ve already got way too far into the speculation on the matter, so I’ll just stop and let everyone else hash it out in the comments. I’m not sure how much I buy the idea that trading for Merrifield is a priority, but I don’t believe for a second that it’s out of the question.