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Yankees Potential Free Agent Target: Whit Merrifield

Could we see Merrifield head to another AL East team over the offseason?

Wild Card Series - Toronto Blue Jays v. Minnesota Twins - Game One Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Yankees are looking to make impact moves this offseason after an incredibly disappointing 2023. The biggest name in the fray is Juan Soto, as rumors have spread that they’re pursuing the young outfielder very hard. However, as the big-name players obviously attract the most attention, there are plenty of other names out there (whether it be via trade or free agency) that the Yankees could consider before the start of the 2024 campaign.

In fact, even though it’s imperative the Yankees take big swings to shore up the roster, they’ll also need to make moves to improve their depth; we all remember how it went last year when injuries quickly forced the Yankees to rely on the likes of Franchy Cordero and Jake Bauers. One player on the free agent market that could be an interesting depth pickup on a short-term deal would be Whit Merrifield.

2023 Statistics: 145 games, 592 PA, .272/.318/.382, 11 HR, 67 RBI, 93 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR

2024 FanGraphs Depth Charts Projections: 128 games, 553 PA, .257/.306/.373, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 85 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR

Previous Contract: Final season of a five-year, $27 million contract signed from 2019-23 with a $6.8 million average annual value (club declined team option for 2024)

Merrifield’s a veteran player who spent the last year with the Toronto Blue Jays. He played 44 games with the club the year before, as he was traded at the deadline from the Kansas City Royals, where he had spent the entirety of his career up to that point.

The 34-year-old outfielder and second baseman has some interesting skills. His primary feature is his speed. The Yankees revamped their base stealing last season, led by Anthony Volpe and his aggressive baserunning approach. Merrifield would continue to enhance that element of the Yankees’ offense. Sure, footspeed generally wanes after age-30, but Merrifield quite literally has not lost a step, with his speed, per Statcast, staying constant since 2019.

That said, it’s somewhat damning with faint praise that we’re leading with his speed. Merrifield’s not a player that’s going to hit for power, and he isn’t going to get on base an exorbitant amount either, despite his fleet feet. His OPS+ rounds out to a 94, which is six points below the league average. Merrifield doesn’t strike out much, an approach the Yankees could use given the way the rest of their lineup has typically been built, but he just doesn’t have enough pop to profile as an average or better contributor with the bat.

Still, defensively, Merrifield could come in handy when put in the right spots. Last season, Merrifield had a minus-1 OAA, according to Baseball Savant. However, that was due to his play in the outfield and not his play at second base, where he was an overall positive finisher of plays with 4 OAA.

Considering his defensive value at second base and his speed, Merrifield looks like he would be a very fine piece in a depth role. He has some versatility on defense, and could provide quality work at second when needed. The Yankees certainly shouldn’t look to him as an everyday player, but he would be a noted upgrade on the kinds of backups they were employing last year.

Given his age, and his limited offensive capabilities, Merrifield won’t break the bank, and probably could be had on a one-year deal. While Soto and star pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto will and should be the Yankees’ focus this winter, they also should keep in mind the depth issues they dealt with in 2023. Adding players like Merrifield on the periphery would help insure the club against some of the worst-case scenarios that they ran into last year.