The Mariners universe is buzzing with the persistent rumor that GM Jerry Dipoto is aggressively pursuing Kansas City Royals All-Star utility man Whit Merrifield. But what would he actually bring to Seattle?
On the heels of a big series win against the A’s which leaves them just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot, the Seattle Mariners could be in position to make their biggest mid-season acquisition in the past decade. Rumors abuzz about Seattle’s effort to land Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield and social media is buzzing with excitement.
Merrifield certainly brings a lot of name recognition and checks a lot of the boxes that Dipoto has publicly stated he is pursuing this week. He’s a right-handed hitting second baseman who is club controlled after the 2021 season. In fact, Merrifield is club controlled through the 2023 season and is only scheduled to earn about $15 million over the next 2+ years.
On the field, Merrifield is an objective upgrade over the Mariners current second base situation. Seattle ranks dead last in fWAR at the position and is slashing a robust .186/.256/.344 in 475 PAs, good for a 69 wRC+. Meanwhile, Merrifield is hitting .272/.319/.402 in 426 PAs, good for a 95 wRC+.
But Merrifield’s value to Seattle extends beyond the impressive 26% improvement the bat alone will bring. Merrifield is also an excellent base-runner and has no issues swiping bases as he enters Monday’s game an impressive 25-26 in stolen base attempts. On top of the obvious offensive upgrade and impressive base-running value, Merrifield is a good second baseman who can also handle his own in the outfield, giving Scott Servais more options off his bench.
At the plate, Merrifield isn’t exactly the type of hitter most would think of as a “control the zone” guy, but he’s actually a good fit. While he doesn’t walk much, he does make a lot of contact and rarely misses, showing off elite barrel control that leads to his 90th percentile rank in whiff %. He doesn’t have any issue chasing pitches, ranking as just above-average. But when he does chase, he still makes contact at a 78% clip, an entire 10% above league-average.
When you boil it all down, adding Merrifield is a bit like adding another Mitch Haniger, though the two add value to their respective club in different ways. Merrifield is a contact, speed, and defense guy where as Haniger is quickly moprhing into a pure bat only player. While they go about achieving their value in different ways, each players is going to finish a full season somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 WAR, making them an above-average everyday regular in any lineup.
Merrifield alone isn’t enough to drastically tip the scales in 2021, but his club control does have another added benefit. If Seattle can pull of this much rumored trade, Seattle will have one fewer hole to fill this off-season. And if 2022 is the actually target date for contention, checking items off the list now is always a good idea. Merrifield’s cheap contract should leave plenty of payroll flexibility for Dipoto to maneuver for more solutions, even if the ownership is dumb enough to repeat their disastrous winter again in 2021.