Cincinnati Reds: Is Whit Merrifield’s price tag worth the gamble?

CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 09: Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals warms up prior to the 2019 MLB All-Star Game at Progressive Field on July 09, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OHIO - JULY 09: Whit Merrifield #15 of the Kansas City Royals warms up prior to the 2019 MLB All-Star Game at Progressive Field on July 09, 2019 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Whit Merrifield would definitely cost the Cincinnati Reds a lot of talented prospects. Is the versatile player for the Kansas City Royals worth it?

When the Cincinnati Reds announced near the end of June that the organization may be open to acquiring a “controllable hitter”, many fans may have been puzzled, considering the abundance of depth on the roster. However, in 2019, positional versatility is the name of the game, meaning if the Reds have the opportunity to acquire the right player for the right price, they should pounce on that chance. That player may just be Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals.

Merrifield, a second baseman and outfielder, was a late-bloomer, breaking into the league in 2016 at the age of 27. After struggling through a half-season of games in 2016, Merrifield found his stroke in 2017, putting together a 3.9 WAR season.

Merrifield then followed up his breakout 2017 season with a 2018 campaign that cemented his status as a star, slashing .304/.367/.438, while finishing 17th in the American League MVP voting. This season, as of July 18th, Merrifield has once again been one of the most valuable commodities in the league, slashing .316/.369/.511, and coming off his first All-Star Game appearance.

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By these statistical standards, one would believe that the Kansas City Royals would either not consider trading Merrifield, or ask for a very steep price in return for his services. However, there is one important caveat that could make a Merrifield trade a possibility over the next two weeks. Merrifield is 30-years old, and while he is still performing at a high level, aging in baseball is often linear, and may be approaching sooner, rather than later.

As for his contract status, Merrifield may just be playing on the most team-friendly deal in the entire sport right now. Merrifield signed a four-year, $16.4 million extension in January 2019, making him ridiculously underpaid for how valuable he is to an organization. There is not a single team in baseball that cannot afford to take on Merrifield’s salary, meaning if the Cincinnati Reds are going to attempt a trade for him, the competition will be heavy, to say the least.

Now may be time to address the most important aspect of a potential Whit Merrifield trade, which is how well he fits in to the short-term and long-term plans for the Reds. While the Reds do have at least two players that can play each position in the field, it would be foolish to not take on a player such as Merrifield, due simply to an abundance of position players at his positions.

Should the Reds be fortunate enough to land Merrifield, the most logical place to plug him in at would be his natural position, second base. Scooter Gennett has struggled mightily in his return from the Injured List, and is a free agent at season’s end.

Meanwhile, Derek Dietrich, despite being arguably the most valuable Red for much of the season’s first two months, has been abysmal at the plate since the beginning of June, slashing .149/.327/.287 with two home runs. Replacing that duo with Merrifield would be a significant boost for an offense that has been one of the worst in the National League this season.

Another course of action that the Reds could take would be to try Merrifield in left field. With Nick Senzel presumably locked in as the center fielder of the future, and Yasiel Puig having been the best hitter on the team over the last month, adding Merrifield to the outfield would make for one of the better outfield trios in all of baseball. While that would require less playing time for both Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin, it improves the offense significantly with one move.

In the second scenario, one of Winker or Ervin could even be dangled as the centerpiece of a trade for either Merrifield, or another high-quality player, perhaps a relief ace, or even another starting pitcher with controllable seasons left. Simply put, acquiring Merrifield not only adds an All-Star caliber player to the lineup, but it also opens up other avenues to try to improve the roster as much as possible.

As for the trade package that the Royals will expect in return for Merrifield, the Cincinnati Reds may be able to swing a deal with a package involving a young MLB player, such as Ervin or Jose Peraza, as well as one or two mid-level prospects. Considering Merrifield’s age, the Royals may not be able to secure one of the best prospects in the Reds’ system, such as Taylor Trammell or Hunter Greene.

To get an idea of what the Reds offense has the potential to be like with the addition of Merrifield, look at a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers. While the Reds will not be rolling out anyone with the talent of Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers are a model franchise for consistently churning out solid offensive contributors, who have the positional flexibility to play all over the diamond, including players like Chris Taylor and Kike Hernandez.

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By trading for Whit Merrifield, the Cincinnati Reds would be taking a gamble, but a relatively safe gamble at that. Merrifield is one of the top players in the game, and the Reds would be securing his services through 2022, while also adding Merrifield to a young core that looks increasingly optimistic as the season wears on. If I am the Reds, I am calling Dayton Moore right now, and finding out what it will take to get Merrifield in a Reds uniform.