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Cubs trade target: Whit Merrifield

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The Royals infielder would seem to be a good fit on the North Side.

Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Last summer, many thought the Cubs should have made a big push to acquire Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield. I say “second baseman,” but like Ben Zobrist, Merrifield plays multiple positions and is pretty good at all of them. In 2019, Merrifield started games at second base (76), right field (53), center field (16), first base (4) and left field (4).

Obviously, no trade for Merrifield materialized during the 2019 season, but there is a report from over the weekend that the Cubs are still interested:

MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi reports that Chicago is showing “continued interest” in trading for Merrifield, who just completed the first season of the four-year, $16.25 million extension he signed with Kansas City at the beginning of 2019. Merrifield remains cheap even after signing that extension (he’ll make $5 million in ’20), and the Cubs could be in the market for a middle infielder to slot next to Javier Báez.

Merrifield, 30, continued to be an accomplished hitter at the plate (Major League-most 206 hits and 10 triples) and versatile in the field this year, logging 77 games in the outfield along with 82 at second base. He’s also a consistent contact hitter, which is a skill the Cubs generally lacked during their 2019 offensive struggles.

(Note that the game numbers in the quote above are the total games Merrifield played at those positions; I noted above the games he started at the positions.)

The contract noted above would be quite team-friendly for the Cubs. It calls for Merrifield to be paid $5 million in 2020, $6.75 million (plus incentives) in 2021, $2.75 million (plus incentives) in 2022 — yes, the dollar figure actually drops in 2022 — and a $10.5 million team option for 2023, with a $750,000 buyout. (The options are pretty detailed — you can check them out at the Royals page at Cot’s if you are interested.)

Merrifield has been one of the better players in the American League the last two seasons. In 2018 he hit .304/.367/.438 with 43 doubles and 45 stolen bases and finished 17th in MVP voting. In 2019: .302/.348/.463 with 41 doubles and 20 stolen bases. He also led the A.L. in triples with 10.

The Cubs haven’t had anyone with that kind of baserunning speed in quite some time. No Cub has stolen more than 28 bases since 2006, when Juan Pierre had 58, and only two have had 20 or more since 2012: Dexter Fowler (20 in 2015) and Javier Baez (21 in 2018).

So if they could make a deal for him, Merrifield would slot right in as the Cubs’ leadoff hitter, and probably move around various positions, though second base would likely be his primary spot.

The first question: Why would the Royals trade him? Well, Kansas City isn’t likely anywhere near contention for most of the remainder of Merrifield’s contract. Thus maybe they’d be looking for controllable young players who might be part of their future. The Cubs don’t really have many of those, unless they’d be willing to include Nico Hoerner or Miguel Amaya or both in a deal for Merrifield. I don’t think the Cubs would be much interested in doing that, and they’d probably have to include at least one of them to acquire Merrifield.

Would you do that? Or maybe you have a better deal you could put together for Merrifield. Let us know what that “better deal” would be.