Whit Merrifield signs extension with the Royals
Sunday was setting up to be another dud of a day in MLB’s offseason as the start of spring training gets closer and closer, but then Kansas City of all teams made some news. There really aren’t a lot of Royals players right now who are worthy of getting excited over, but Whit Merrifield is one of the exceptions. He’s emerged as one of the most underrated players in the game, and now the Royals got some cost certainty with their second baseman. Nothing is officially official just yet, but according to reports he has signed a four-year deal with a fifth year option with Kansas City. The deal is reportedly worth a guaranteed $16.25 million with the chance to get up around $30 if the option year is triggered.
My first reaction, and the first reaction of many, were that this is a very team-friendly deal. Merrifield was worth 5.2 wins by Fangraphs’ WAR measure in 2018 after being worth just under three wins in 2017, and the Royals got that guy at a premium position for $16 million. That’s a great deal for them! That being said, there are reasons why the deal is lower and reasons it’s understandable for Merrifield to take this deal. It’s easy to say he should be more wary of these kinds of contracts given the tension between players and ownership right now, but Merrifield has to do what’s best for him and his family. He’s relatively new to the league, but he was a late-bloomer and is already 30 years old. He’s also a ninth round pick who signed for $100,000, so he’s never really made the big bucks. He just guaranteed himself a life-changing amount of money rather than risking going through arbitration. Chances are he’d make more than this sum in that process, but he’s also a player who relies a lot on speed, and that can leave in a heartbeat.
All of aside, that doesn’t change that this is a team-friendly deal. There is some risk that this is deal doesn’t provide quite as much surplus value as may seem inevitable at first glance, but there is zero risk of this coming back to bite the Royals in a significant way. It’s why teams want to get these deals done as early as possible, because the earlier in a player’s career the less risk is taken on by teams. The Royals, at the very worst case, have to each about $16 million over four years. There is no MLB team that can’t handle that. Meanwhile, they also get a chance at the aforementioned surplus value while also having a great trade asset at a fixed price. Again, it makes all the sense in the world for Merrifield to sign this deal and more power to him for making that choice, but the Royals really can’t lost in this situation.