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Ask Pinstripe Alley 11/18/18: Could the Yankees trade for Whit Merrifield?

The Royals second baseman is interesting, but he probably isn’t on the move.

Ask Pinstripe Alley

Last week I put out a call for Yankees mailbag questions. I received a handful of submissions, but one merited a lengthier response. I’m going to give that question a try today, and revisit the other submissions soon.

EasyRider28 asks: Any chance the Yankees might look into a trade for Whit Merrifield? He plays second base and outfield. He hit .304 and had 45 stolen bases — 5.2 WAR in 2018.

Merrifield, 29, had a breakout season in 2018. He slashed .304/.367/.438 with 12 home runs. That translated to a 120 wRC+. As mentioned, he wreaked havoc on the basepaths. In addition to the 45 stolen bases, he managed a 7.4 BsR rating. That ranked him sixth in all of baseball.

An interesting thing about Merrifield is that he’s an extreme contact hitter. He owns a remarkable 83.2% career contract rate. Because of that, he will never be known for taking walks. In fact, his 8.6% walk rate in 2018 represents the best mark of his big league tenure. That doesn’t matter too much, though, because he has a mastery of the strike zone.

That eye and bat-to-ball skills would fit nicely into any lineup, including the Yankees. In many ways he has a similar batting profile to Miguel Andujar. Imagine adding another Andujar into the lineup. Wouldn’t that be pretty cool?

As for defense, Merrifield primarily plays second base. He logged 933.2 innings at the keystone last season, and graded out well at the position. When not at second, he has a track record in the outfield, roaming all three spots. Additionally, he played 44.1 innings at first base in 2018. That feels like an emergency situation, however, so the Yankees shouldn’t think of Merrifield as a replacement option for Luke Voit and Greg Bird.

Based on his 2018 season, Merrifield makes a lot of sense for the Yankees. That said, there are two roadblocks to acquiring the infielder. First, and most importantly, the Royals have no interest in trading him. As a full rebuilding team, moving a 29-year-old pre-arbitration eligible makes a lot of sense. They could command a coup of prospects to help speed along the process.

Unfortunately, that’s not how the Royals work. In his most recent Inside Baseball column, Jon Heyman noted: “Whit Merrifield, who became a star at 29, would seem like his timetable fits another team better. But as Sam Mellinger mentioned, GM Dayton Moore does not like to trade stars who have already made a connection with fans and in the clubhouse.”

Now let’s assume the Royals had a change of heart and decided to entertain offers for the second baseman. Would the Yankees be interested? One would assume given Didi Gregorius’ injury. They could shift Gleyber Torres to shortstop and have Merrifield play second. On the other hand, the possibility of signing Manny Machado for just cash, and receiving a far better overall player, looms. Why waste trade chips on an infielder when an elite one is available on the free agent market?

Merrifield makes sense in a vacuum. He would fill an immediate need and give the Yankees’ a better chance to succeed next season. It just probably won’t happen. The Royals don’t appear inclined to move him, and the Yankees sound like they are focusing their attention on Machado.