The Royals could have paid versatile second baseman Whit Merrifield relatively little this year, then given him a series of one-year contracts accompanied by increasing pressure each season.
Instead, they chose to reward him for both his perseverance and play.
The sides agreed Monday to a $16.25 million, four-year contract that covers Merrifield’s years of arbitration eligibility; Merrifield gets $1 million this year, $5 million in 2020, $6.75 million in 2021 and $2.75 million in 2022. The Royals have a $10.5 million option for 2023 with a $750,000 buyout, and there are $2 million in performance bonuses.
”It’ll change my family’s life for the rest of our lives in that regard,” Merrifield said during a news conference at Kauffman Stadium. ”It doesn’t really change anything for me on the field. I never started playing this game to be a millionaire. It’s not why I put on cleats. It was to compete.”
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The 30-year-old was a late bloomer who didn’t break into the big leagues until 2016, when he was 27 years old. That means he still wouldn’t have been eligible for arbitration until next offseason, and that the Royals could have controlled his rights for several more years.
But after toiling all those years in the minor leagues, and often getting passed over in spring training, Merrifield emerged as a legitimate five-tool rock for the rebuilding Royals franchise.
He hit .304 with an American League-leading 192 hits and 45 stolen bases last season. He also hit 12 homers and with 60 RBIs while playing a solid second base defensively, and he’s capable of playing first base, third base and all three outfield positions.
Merrifield’s speed and defense also dovetail nicely with the approach Kansas City has taken to this season. The Royals signed fellow speedsters Chris Owings and Billy Hamilton while bringing back Terrance Gore, and the idea is to be both versatile in the field and daring on the base paths.