The Milwaukee Brewers may be on the hunt for a “rotation leader” this summer, but that reportedly won’t preclude them from exploring the market for another bat as well. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Slingin’ David Stearns and company are interested in a player that just came through Milwaukee - Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield.
Per Rosenthal, the Brewers first began their pursuit of the Royals’ late-blooming infielder this past winter and have continued to express interest into the 2018 season. Merrifield was a 9th-round draft pick by Kansas City all the way back in 2010 and didn’t make it to the big leagues until 2016, his age-27 season. He wasn’t very highly thought of as a prospect, never even ranking in Baseball America’s org top prospect list for the Royals as a minor leaguer. But in the parts of three seasons so far in the MLB, Whit has slashed .286/.333/.428 with 25 home runs and 58 steals in 1,301 plate appearances for a solid 103 wRC+.
Merrifield hit 19 home runs and stole 34 bases while posting a 105 wRC+ in his first full season in the Show in 2017. He’s continued to be a steady offensive producer to this point in 2018, batting .284/.358/.401 with four homers and 16 steals through his first 339 plate appearances. Whit hasn’t shown the same power that he did last year, but he has nearly doubled his walk rate this season (4.6% to 8.8%) and has raised his hard contact rate by some nine points (30.6% to 39.8%). Merrifield thrives at putting the ball in play (16.7% strikeout rate, 8.2% swinging strike rate for his career) and he’s been peppering the field with line drives all year long, ranking 14th among qualified hitters with a 26.6% line drive rate and t-10th with 23 doubles.
In addition to his offensive prowess, Merrifield has been a rock-solid defender at the keystone. Defensive Runs Saved pegs his contributions at +12 runs at second base during his 2000+ innings there in the big leagues. He’s also shown himself to be pretty versatile, with appearances at first base, third base, and all three outfield spots since debuting with Kansas City. Merrifield has actually started 17 games in the outfield this year, including 10 in center and seven in right. In a small sample size, Whit has acquitted himself surprisingly well in center field (+1 DRS, 0.7 UZR in 93.0 innings).
Merrifield may be in his age-29 season, but because he debuted so late he still has another four seasons of club control after the conclusion of 2018. Any team that acquires him would be able to plug him in as their long-term answer at second base, which is particularly interesting in the case of the Brewers. The club has gotten only a combined 74 wRC+ from their second basemen, with Jonathan Villar seeing the most time at the position while hitting only .258/.303/.378. Brad Miller was recently acquired to help out and Tyler Saladino is on his way back from his ankle injury, but adding Merrifield to the fold would be a definite upgrade to the middle infield mix for the near-term and long-term. If the Brewers could get a deal done, it may also make it more palatable to part with top prospect and minor league hitting savant Keston Hiura in a package for an “ace.” Assuming he wouldn’t be part of a hypothetical deal with Kansas City, that is.
In his post, Rosenthal also suggests that Danny Duffy could be a fit for the Brewers, although he makes sure to note that the two teams are not believed to be discussing any deals regarding the lefty at this time. Duffy is earning $14 mil this year and is owed another $46 mil or so from 2019-21 as part of the extension he signed prior to the 2017 season. The 29 year old is the owner of a career 3.86 ERA across 864.0 MLB innings, but this season he has compiled a 4.94 mark (along with a 5.33 FIP) across 17 starts and 94.2 innings pitched. Ken suggests that Duffy has been pitching better of late (2.68 ERA in his last 7 starts), but in my opinion it’s hard to see him as a fit for the Brewers unless they are eating his salary to lessen the prospect cost of acquiring Merrifield. He’s not really any better than the options that the Brewers currently have in-house.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs