Milwaukee Brewers: Position Player Trade Targets
By Dan Larsen
Whit Merrifield, RHB 2B/OF, Kansas City Royals
As we’ve discussed in our previous two trade preview articles, the MLB Trade deadline is shaping up to be a sellers market. Only seven teams in baseball, as of July 10th, appear to be far enough out of contention to be considered as clear sellers ahead of the July 31st deadline.
The position player market, more than even the relief or starting pitching markets, will be extremely short of talent. None of the players currently ranked in the top 30 on FanGraphs in WAR are better than even odds to move. Even the players we will discuss in this article are more likely than not to remain on their teams past the July 31st deadline.
The top position player that is likely to be realistically available in trade conversations is Kansas City Royals second baseman/outfielder: Whit Merrifield.
Merrifield is a name Milwaukee Brewers fans will recognize. The Brewers were linked with him last July when they were looking for options to improve at second base ahead of the non-waiver deadline.
Merrifield has emerged as one of the best second basemen in the game. Merrifield finished second among second basemen last year in WAR at a 5.2. Only Javier Baez, who split time across the diamond, but primarily played at shortstop, was better than him (5.3 WAR) in 2018. He’s been solid again in 2019 so far, posting a 2.3 WAR going into the break.
He’s an excellent contact hitter with elite speed on the bases. Merrifield stole 34 bases in 2017, 45 last season, and has 14 stolen bases to his name so far in 2019. His speed grades out in the 87th percentile among all major league players so far this season.
He’s hitting a career best .306 as well after reaching a career high in average (.304) just one season ago. He’s also improved his OPS over each season he’s been the league, getting past the .800 mark last season (.806) and posting a career best mark of .850 this season.
The underlying numbers behind Merrifield’s bat are extremely encouraging as well. Merrifield is making hard contact on 41.2% of his batted balls in play this season, a 4.3% improvement over his career best mark last year. He’s never been a top-tier player in exit velocity (he’s ranks in just the 23rd percentile at 87.2 MPH in 2019), but he’s able to leg out hits consistently, including doubles and triples, thanks to his top-notch speed.
Merrifield also exerts decent control of the strike zone. His walk percentage hit a career best mark of 8.6% in 2018, but has dipped to 6.5% in 2019. However, he’s made contact on 82.8% of his swings throughout his career, including a solid 89.2% contact rate on pitches in the strike zone. There isn’t that much swing-and-miss to his game.
In addition to being a solid offensive player, Merrifield has demonstrated respectable defensive skills across multiple positions. Merrifield has been above average in Defensive Runs Saved at second base in every season of his career, and has been good for two DRS in each of the past two seasons in the outfield. He’s a better defender at second than he is in center or right field, but he’s still capable of being a net positive when asked to move around the field.
Given his positional flexibility, and his great offensive profile, Merrifield may make sense for the Milwaukee Brewers. Even with Keston Hiura in the fold now at second base, the Brewers could definitely use someone of his quality towards the top of the order. His ability to play second and the outfield would make him a very valuable utility option who can start every day at four different positions, thus easing the load that’s been carried by the likes Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas thus far.
Kansas City has indicated publicly that it will take a lot for them to consider moving him this summer. He recently signed a contract extension on a very team-friendly deal that has him under team control through 2023, meaning the Royals have little incentive to move him.
Merrifield is, however, 30 years old, and Kansas City isn’t exactly close to becoming a playoff contender either as their second-worst record in the league (30-61) shows. Given the lack of other top-notch options that are likely to be available, the Royals would be wise to seriously entertain cashing out on him this summer while his value is at its peak.