Blue Jays Acquire Whit Merrifield

The Blue Jays announced they’ve acquired infielder Whit Merrifield from the Royals, with right-hander Max Castillo and minor league infielders Samad Taylor going to Kansas City,

The deal officially ends a run of more than a decade in the Kansas City organization for Merrifield, who entered per ball as a 2010 draftee. He reached the big leagues in 2016 and had cemented himself as a regular by the following season. He’d spent the next few seasons as a top-of-the-order presence and consistently productive contact hitter. Merrifield twice led the American League in steals, twice more led the league in hits and was selected to a pair of All-Star Games. As recently as last season, he paced the circuit in doubles and swiped 40 bags, although his overall offensive output had begun to dip.

Merrifield’s production has continued to fall this year, as he’s amidst the worst offensive season of his career. He’s hitting .240/.290/.352 through 420 plate appearances, although that’s largely a reflection of a dismal April in which he hit .141/.190/.179. From May 1 onwards, he has a roughly league average .266/.315/.397 mark, striking out in only 14.9% of his plate appearances. He’s connected on just six home runs, but Merrifield brings a high-contact bat to the Jays lineup.

The 33-year-old is also a versatile defensive option capable of covering either of second base or in corner outfield. Public defensive metrics have been mixed on his performance at the keystone so far this season, but he’s typically a highly-regarded defender there. Santiago Espinal has had a nice season overall as the Jays primary second baseman, but he slumped offensively in July. Merrifield adds some cover there while also adding some extra right-handed depth to a bench that currently skews left-handed.

The Jays are a bit of a surprising destination for Merrifield, who was placed on the restricted list during a recent series while still with KC That indicates he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 at the time — and was thus ineligible to cross the border — but Merrifield indicated he was open to receiving the vaccine to contribute to a playoff contender. General manager Ross Atkins declined to comment when asked about Merrifield’s vaccination status this evening (via Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet), but it’s difficult to imagine Toronto topping the trade market if they weren’t confident he’d be available for half their games.

Merrifield is under contract for another season and a half. He and the Royals agreed to a restructured deal just before Opening Day. He’s making $7MM this season, around $2.5MM of which is still to be paid out. He’ll receive a $6.75MM figure next season, and he’s due a $500K buyout on an $18MM mutual option for 2024. That’s a more than reasonable tab for the Jays if they believe Merrifield has put his rough April behind him.

Kansas City has resisted trade overtures on Merrifield for years, holding onto him throughout their recent rebuild. Amidst another down season and with his window of club control falling, however, president of baseball operations Dayton Moore and his staff finally made him available this summer. In exchange, they bring back a pair of young players with extended windows of club control who could contribute to the major league team shortly.

Castillo has already gotten to the big leagues, making his debut in mid-June. The 23-year-old righty has a 3.05 ERA through his first 20 2/3 frames, primarily working as a multi-inning option out of the bullpen. He’s punched out 24.7% of batters faced, induced grounders on more than half his batted balls, and only walked 6.2% of opponents. The Venezuela native has averaged around 93 MPH on his fastball and leaned heavily on his changeup during his limited big league time.

Baseball America recently named Castillo the #14 prospect in the Jays farm system, praising his feel for pitching and crediting him with average command. The outlet suggests his lack of a true plus offering is likely to relegate him to a back-of-the-rotation or swing role, but there’s still value in that kind of arm while he’s affordable. Castillo won’t reach arbitration-eligibility until 2025 at the earliest, and he still has all three minor league option years remaining. He gives the Jays an affordable rotation depth option for the coming seasons.

Taylor, 24, is an upper minors infielder. A former tenth-round pick, he’s played his way to Triple-A and had a decent season in Buffalo. Through 280 plate appearances, the righty-hitting second baseman owns a .258/.337/.426 line with nine home runs and 23 stolen bases. BA slotted Taylor 23rd in the Toronto farm system, writing that he could be a utility type in the big leagues. He’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft if he’s not added to the 40-man roster at the end of the season.

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com first reported the Royals were trading Merrifield, while Jon Heyman of the New York Post was first to report the Jays were the acquiring team. fine sand was first with the return.

Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.

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