Royals send Merrifield to Blue Jays at Deadline

Kansas City acquires two prospects from Toronto, deals Gallagher to Padres for OF

August 3rd, 2022

CHICAGO -- Whit Merrifield’s name has swirled in trade rumors for several years now, but the Royals had been reluctant to move on from their ironman stalwart and veteran utilityman.

On Tuesday, that changed.

In a buzzer-beater at the 5 p.m. CT Trade Deadline, Kansas City dealt Merrifield to the Blue Jays for two prospects: Second baseman/outfielder Samad Taylor (Toronto's No. 16 prospect at the time of the deal and now ranked No. 23 in Kansas City's system) and right-hander Max Castillo (slotting in as K.C's No. 13 prospect). The Royals also dealt backup catcher Cam Gallagher to the Padres for outfielder Brent Rooker.

Even with preparation that the end of an era was coming, hearing that one of the faces of the franchise was no longer a Royal was jarring. As Kansas City began pregame warmups ahead of a 9-2 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, some players were confused as to why Merrifield wasn’t among them.

Merrifield had been called into manager Mike Matheny’s office, where president of baseball operations Dayton Moore was on the phone. One by one, as teammates realized what happened, they went back into the clubhouse to say goodbye. The mood was somber before and after the game.

Royals get: Minor League 2B/OF Samad Taylor, Minor League RHP Max Castillo
Blue Jays get: UTIL Whit Merrifield

Royals get: Minor League OF Brent Rooker
Padres get: C Cam Gallagher

“He’s one of the best teammates I’ve played with,” Hunter Dozier said. “He became a leader, someone who I've looked up to. He’s done a lot for this organization. … And Cam is the best. He’s one of my best friends. He does a lot of things fans don’t see. He didn’t get to play a lot, but he helped this team tremendously.”

Merrifield declined comment through the Royals’ communications staff.

“Whit Merrifield has been a staple in this organization for a really long time,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “A really special player. A lot of great memories with him as a player. And we’re thankful for his contributions.”

Merrifield, a ninth-round pick (No. 269 overall) in the 2010 MLB Draft out of South Carolina, had played all seven of his MLB seasons with the Royals after debuting at age 27. He developed into a two-time All-Star (2019 and ’21) and a stalwart at the top of the Kansas City lineup.

Merrifield, whose contract runs through ‘23 with a mutual option for ’24, ends his Royals career with 1,001 hits (14th in club history) and 174 stolen bases (seventh). He led the Majors in hits twice (2018 and ’19) and stolen bases in ’18, while also leading the American League in stolen bases in ’17 and ’21.

The 33-year-old set the standard of playing every day, breaking the Royals’ consecutive games played streak last year and finishing that franchise-record run at 553 games earlier this month.

Now, he brings speed and versatility to a Blue Jays club pushing for the postseason.

“Our hope is that every player that comes after him plays the game the way he did, plays the game with the passion and is prepared as he’s been every night he took the field,” Picollo said.

Mired in Merrifield’s final weeks as a Royal was the criticism that he took for comments he made as one of the 10 players who could not travel to Canada in July because he wasn’t vaccinated. He said if he was on a team that had to play in Canada for the postseason, he would consider getting vaccinated because of his desire to play in October.

Picollo said the controversy caused by those comments was not a factor in the decision to trade Merrifield -- and that his legacy in Kansas City should be “nothing but positive.”

“He did so many great things during his time here,” Picollo said. “ … That’s what we will think of when we think of Whit. I don’t think it’s out of the question that he’s going to be a Royals Hall of Famer at some point.”

Why not trade Merrifield earlier in his career?

“I think it’s more of a reflection of where our organization is right now,” Picollo said. “The last couple years, we can call them transition years if we’d like to, his versatility, all the things that he could do for us always allowed us to have flexibility to give opportunity to guys who were ready to play in the Major Leagues.

“Now, we’re at a point in our system with a lot of young players that the competition is getting tighter.”

In all, the Royals moved five players off the 40-man roster, as well as a Draft pick, and they added 12 players to the organization. The club started early by sending first baseman Carlos Santana to the Mariners at the end of June and trading the No. 35 overall pick in the 2022 Draft  to the Braves in early July. Outfielder Andrew Benintendi went to the Yankees last week, and third baseman Emmanuel Rivera went to the D-backs on Monday before Tuesday’s deals.

“I was shocked,” Gallagher said, emotional as he reflected on 11 years in the Royals’ organization. “I’m going to hold onto these memories, and I’m going to root for them. But at the end of the day it’s a new opportunity for me, so it’s a good thing.”

While the Royals certainly could have done more as sellers, they held onto the trade candidates who they felt brought value for at least another year. They also added pitching and hitting depth to build around the core group of young players at or near the Major League level.

“We were willing partners and listeners,” Picollo said. “But we were not extremely aggressive in trying to make a trade for anybody that we thought clearly makes our team [better] or puts our team in a better position to start 2023.

“… A lot of the pieces are there on the field right now.”