As we head into the 2nd half of the season, the league is increasingly divided into two sections: sellers and buyers. As has been the case since their 2015 World Series victory, the Royals find themselves solidly in the former category. This year, however, they don’t really have a whole lot to offer playoff contenders except for Whit Merrifield, who would probably bring quite the ransom back to a team that is desperate to bring some excitement back to BBQ City. Merrifield is having another great year for the Royals, getting his first ever All Star team selection last week. He’s currently slashing .309/.360/.497 with 11 HR and 44 RBI, and has added 14 stolen bases to his line. He plays primarily at 2B, but can be slotted anywhere on the field with plus defense at the majority of positions. Were he to continue on this pace, he’d be worth 5.4 WAR at the end of the season. On top of that, he’s signed to a team friendly contract with 3 more years of control to any team that could acquire his talents.
Yet therein lies the rub for any team looking in on his availability, as Royals GM Dayton Moore has already come out and said that he’s not planning on moving Merrifield as he means too much to the team and no one could possibly entice them to move him. While this might just be a GM attempting to set the market impossibly high to sell his player, it seems more likely that Moore plans on building around Merrifield and other younger players. The Royals already have the uber-exciting Adalberto Mondesi and Hunter Dozier having success up at the major league level in addition to Merrifield.
If this is truly the case, Dayton Moore either thinks that his rebuild will be far enough along in the next three years for the team to compete, or that Merrifield puts enough butts in the seats that it’s better for the Royals to keep him around and potentially see him walk in 3 years as opposed to flipping him at the deadline for a king’s ransom of young talent that could supercharge his team’s rebuild.
So which is it? Looking a little closer at the numbers, it seems it’s neither. As it stands right now, the Royals farm system ranks somewhere around 19th in the league after this years entry draft last month. They have 3 top-100 prospects in addition to the dearth of youth currently playing at the major league level. Were the Royals to move Merrifield they’d easily jump into the top 10, much like the Sox did with the Sale/Quintana/Eaton trades. As far as league attendance goes, the Royals pulled in about 1.7 million last season, about 400,000 below the AL average. This is a precipitous drop from 2016 (Merrifield’s first season in the majors) where the Royals drew 2.6 million. This season has them at 850,000 thus far, which puts them in line with last year’s numbers. So the idea that Merrifield puts asses in seats doesn’t really pan out either.
So looking at those numbers, the smart play for the Royals would be to move Merrifield to a team desperate for leadoff infield help. Based on a quick glance at the contenders, he would be an instant upgrade for the Dodgers at second base solidifying an already terrifying lineup. The Dodgers also have a top 10 farm system loaded with the kind of talent that could push the Royals rebuild up a few years. The A’s farm system is also pretty well stocked, and could use an infield upgrade on the left side. There should be no end of suitors for Merrifield’s services, but unless Dayton Moore has a huge change of heart (or some type of brain transplant) it looks as though he’s staying put in KC. Which in the long run is best for the White Sox as a whole, since it pushes back their competitive window even further behind the one Rick Hahn is looking at.