As of Monday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals are third in the American League Central division, with a 32-38 record.
They started the season hot but had a rough stretch in May that brought them back to Earth and closer to their current reality and roster.
Right now, they are 10 games behind the division leaders, the Chicago White Sox, and 7.5 behind the second-place Cleveland Indians.
Their odds to win the division are calculated, according to FanGraphs, at 0.7 percent, while their odds of making the playoffs are not too much higher, at 1.1 percent.
It’s safe to say that the Royals won’t be able to compete this year, and they are also unlikely to do it next year either.
The Whit Merrifield Conundrum
The Royals have not had too many bright spots on offense other than Carlos Santana and Salvador Perez, but the best of them all has been Whit Merrifield if we consider baserunning contributions into the equation.
Merrifield has a .274/.326/.412 line so far, with six home runs and 20 stolen bases, so he is on pace to steal a little over 40 bags.
He is a premier base-stealer who is far from a zero in the power and batting departments.
The Nicky Lopez-Whit Merrifield combo setting up the lineup has been pretty lethal in June:
Lopez: .350/.447/.375 (.822 OPS)
Merrifield: .342/.363/.513 (.876 OPS)#Royals
— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) June 20, 2021
Additionally, Merrifield is a plus-defender capable of playing second base and the outfield, so he would be a nice piece for a contender.
He is 32, so the question remains: Should the Royals trade him or keep him for their next contention window?
Trading Him Is The Best Solution
Merrifield signed a four-year contract worth $16.25 million before the 2019 season, in what was an extremely team-friendly deal.
The deal will run out after the 2022 season, but Merrifield has a club option worth $6.5 million for the 2023 season.
Even if he declines, picking up the option is a no-brainer unless he is not healthy.
However, while the Royals may be competitive again by 2022 or 2023, it remains unlikely.
They do lack some impact batters outside of shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., though.
Banking on automatic contention in 2022 is not that easy, given the competition within the division.
That’s why they should trade Merrifield while he still has value.
If Merrifield plays well up until the deadline, I would definitely trade him. Probably hold on to Beni and Santana for next season. And everyone else we're probably stuck with except the bullpen unless Duffy returns healthy then you could move him
— HollandDaze (@RoyalsRoast) June 21, 2021
He generates most of his value with his legs and athleticism.
As he ages, the stolen base numbers will decline, as will the defense across the board.
If we take away Merrifield’s baserunning and defense, his type of player is easy to find around the league.
So what should the Royals do?
They should take advantage of the fact that Merrifield’s value will not be higher and trade him.
The return could be substantial, and if they let this opportunity pass, they will find themselves with an aging speedster who will be on the way out when they are competitive again.
A player is valuable when he is good, affordable, and far from free agency.
Right now, Merrifield fills all those boxes, but who knows how his decline will be, and at 32 years old, he is not that far from finding out.