MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — All proper, OK, let’s get to it. Whit Merrifield says he bought vaccinated. Three weeks in the past, when the Kansas Metropolis Royals got here to Rogers Centre to play the Toronto Blue Jays, he didn’t make the journey. He went on the restricted checklist. He forfeited 4 video games’ pay and repair time.
“If one thing occurs and I occur to get on a staff that has an opportunity to go play in Canada within the post-season,” Merrifield mentioned on the time, “possibly that adjustments.”
In Kansas Metropolis, these feedback didn’t go over properly. A variety of followers had been harm. You’d get vaccinated to assist one other staff win however not ours? And a whole lot of them let Merrifield learn about it. Out and about, on social media, from the stands at Kauffman Stadium. And because the commerce deadline neared and Merrifield realized he was very more likely to be moved, probably even to Toronto of all locations, he determined he didn’t need to harm one other fanbase yet again.
“For a few weeks now, I’ve understood that this may be a chance. And I will be in Toronto when the staff goes there,” he mentioned Thursday, sporting Blue Jays colors within the guests’ dugout at Goal Area in Minneapolis. “It was one thing that I most likely might have dealt with a bit of higher. However what occurred, occurred. And I am excited to be a Blue Jay. I am excited to get to Toronto and play on the Rogers Centre as my residence.
“I’ll be in Toronto when the staff will get to Toronto.”
And naturally Merrifield bought vaccinated. Why would anybody suppose he’d do in any other case? It could be legitimately surprising if the Blue Jays traded Max Castillo, a 23-year-old swingman with sturdy fastball command who’s pitched to a 3.05 ERA since making his big-league debut earlier this season, and Samad Taylor, a toolsy 24-year-old who performs a number of positions and sure would’ve been poached in final low season’s Rule 5 draft if it occurred, for a veteran utility participant who can’t enter the nation the place half the membership’s video games happen.
The Blue Jays would by no means execute a transaction underneath these circumstances, simply as they’d by no means compromise a participant’s privateness by disclosing his well being info publicly with out consent. Merrifield’s vaccination resolution was his to make and his to share. And now that it’s been made and shared, everybody can transfer ahead.
“What an thrilling staff. I am so excited to be on this clubhouse, get to know a few of these guys that I’ve performed towards from afar,” Merrifield mentioned earlier than chipping in a pair of hits because the Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins Thursday, 9-3. “As quickly as I bought traded, I known as Ryan Goins and Justin Smoak — two of my actually good mates. And so they each mentioned the identical factor: ‘Man, you are going to find it irresistible up there.’ I’ve solely been on the opposing aspect. Had some selection phrases thrown my approach. So, I am excited to be on the opposite aspect.”
Not that it was simple leaving a Royals group Merrifield spent the primary dozen years of his skilled profession with and calls “my household.” He got here a good distance there. Merrifield was chosen out of faculty by the Royals with the 269th total decide within the 2010 draft and signed to a $100,000 bonus. He spent the subsequent six years slowly working his approach up the organizational ladder till lastly, on the age of 27, he broke by way of to the big-leagues in 2016.
From there, he led the league in hits twice, in steals thrice. He was a two-time all-star, together with final season when he put up 42 doubles and 40 steals. Lots of the coaches who helped develop him within the minors finally joined him on Kansas Metropolis’s major-league employees. Merrifield’s identified for weeks that his time with the Royals was coming to an finish. However there’s no making ready your self for these goodbyes.
“I didn’t count on it to be as robust because it was,” he mentioned. “Saying goodbye to a whole lot of these guys, a whole lot of gamers that I’ve spent nearly all of my profession with, it was extra emotional than I assumed it might be. It is a part of the sport. It is a part of the enterprise. However that does not imply it is simple.”
In fact, a lot of Merrifield’s season has been about getting by way of issues that haven’t been simple, from the regretful vaccination feedback he made to the depressing stoop he started this 12 months that’s nonetheless dragging down his numbers immediately.
Merrifield remembers trying up on the Camden Yards scoreboard throughout a sequence in Baltimore every week into Could and considering, ‘Man, am I actually hitting .130?’ Not fairly. It was .135 with a .341 OPS by way of his first 113 plate appearances. He was about to be dropped to No. 8 within the Royals batting order after main off or hitting second for the membership day by day for the final half-decade. It was a tough time.
However nothing appeared off within the batter’s field. If something, Merriweather felt good — just like the ball had been leaping off his bat in addition to it ever has. He simply wasn’t seeing outcomes. Perhaps it was the deadened baseballs; possibly the chilly climate; possibly simply dangerous luck. Nicely, definitely dangerous luck. Off the highest of his head, Merrifield can inform you about 10 well-struck, early-season balls that merely didn’t drop in.
No matter it was, a correction has been occurring ever since. Over 307 plate appearances from Could 10 till he was traded, Merrifield hit .280/.332/.423, good for a 112 wRC+. He strung collectively separate hit streaks of 10, seven, and 6 video games. He hasn’t had fairly sufficient runway to pull his season-long numbers all the best way out of the crater they began in. However he’s introduced them up fairly far.
And he was an excellent guess to take action. His barrel price and common exit velocity on the season are proper in keeping with his norms; his strikeout and stroll charges are each a tick higher than over his profession; his hard-hit price’s up, too. Regardless of the early-season stoop, you received’t discover something alarming in Merrifield’s peripherals.
What you will see is a suspiciously low .266 BABIP— his profession BABIP is .323 and has by no means gone decrease than .295 in a single season — plus sizable gaps between his precise and anticipated batting common (.240 BA; .253 xBA), slugging share (.352 SLG; .377 xSLG), and weighted on-base common (.282 wOBA; .303 xwOBA).
How a lot inventory you set into these metrics that counsel Merrifield’s impacting pitches the identical approach he at all times has, simply not receiving the outcomes you’d count on primarily based on his high quality of contact, is as much as you. There’s no disputing the actual fact his season-long line is that of a below-average MLB hitter. However Merrifield’s 80 wRC+ clearly doesn’t inform all the story on the floor.
Not less than, that’s how Zack Greinke feels. When Merrifield was traded, one of many first texts he obtained was from the veteran Royals right-hander, who didn’t ship him any pleasantries, any phrases of encouragement, or any precise phrases in any respect. Greinke merely despatched a Tweet evaluating Merrifield’s precise numbers to his anticipated ones, demonstrating how unlucky he’d been.
“That was it. There was nothing else however the Tweet. And so, I noticed him in a while that day, and I used to be like, ‘Zach, I bought your Tweet. What’s up?’” Merrifield remembered. “And he goes, ‘Yeah, man, I simply need to let you realize that you simply’re an excellent participant. Though typically the numbers may not present it.’”
It’s an excellent reminder. Even at 33, Merriweather’s nonetheless a productive, versatile participant, able to elevating a membership’s flooring at any place across the diamond apart from shortstop and catcher.
And whereas he’s undoubtedly misplaced a step within the area and on the basepaths from his 2017-2020 prime, shedding solely a step off elite pace and defensive metrics means you’re nonetheless an exceptionally expert participant. Merrifield’s dash pace this season ranks inside MLB’s 83rd percentile, placing him proper in keeping with Teoscar Hernandez and George Springer. The one Blue Jay measured sooner is late-game pace specialist Bradley Zimmer.
Merrifield’s skill to maintain above-average athleticism into his mid-30’s is nice information for a membership positioned to make use of him by way of subsequent season, because the Blue Jays are. At a modest $6.75-million wage for 2023, it isn’t exhausting to examine Merrifield offering ample surplus worth if he retains making contact the best way he has, operating in addition to he’s, and avoiding the injured checklist which he final visited in 2014.
The $18-million mutual choice in his contract for 2024, when Merrifield can be 35, is one other story. However with solely a $500,000 buyout hooked up to that choice, there’s little threat there for the Blue Jays.
In fact, they’ll fear about that then. For now, the Blue Jays have a multipurpose piece who may help them this 12 months and subsequent, a wanted layer of insurance coverage towards damage to a different common, and a ballplayer who’s extraordinarily motivated to compete for them — wherever the video games are happening.
“I really feel like this can be a ballclub that matches into my recreation. Motion, pleasure, versatility. Guys on the market wish to hit, wish to swing the bat,” Merrifield mentioned. “Whenever you’re taking part in towards sure groups from the skin, there’s groups that are available that you simply simply really feel an power from. And that is a kind of groups. From prime to backside. It is simply thrilling baseball. I am excited. I imply, I’ve mentioned excited loads. However I am excited to be part of this staff.”