Rumors of the Chicago Cubs’ interest in Kansas City Royals super-utility player Whit Merrifield have popped up again. The Cubs could desperately use a leadoff hitter, and that’s no secret.
Kansas City’s Whit Merrifield has his flaws, the most obvious one being that he will be 31 by the time the 2020 season rolls around. Usually, that’s not too much of a cause for concern, but for a guy whose game is predicated on speed and contact like Merrifield’s, that profile doesn’t tend to age well.
The Cubs would get Merrifield until 2022, with a club option for 2023, when he is 34. The Cubs may have their version of Merrifield in Nico Hoerner.
Hoerner came up last September in an emergency after Javier Baez got injured and missed the rest of the season. Hoerner put up an 86 wRC+ with three home runs while playing just below average at shortstop. The profiles of Merrifield and Hoerner as hitters are very similar.
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In 2020, Merrifield is projected by FanGraphs for a 99 wRC+ with 14 home runs and 65 RBI, 23 steals, a 6.9 BB% with a 16.6 K%. Hoerner, on the other hand, is projected for a 90 wRC+ with seven home runs, 35 RBI, with a 5.6 BB% and 12.7 K%. The Cubs desperately need a contact hitter at the top of the order, and it almost looks like Hoerner would be the better option given the make-up of the roster.
Merrifield is projected for 1.8 fWAR, and Hoerner is at 0.9 fWAR. The difference between the two is practically minimal. However, Merrifield’s career .344 OBP is a lot more appealing than Hoerner’s .305 he put up in one month.
Defensively, both players are quite versatile. Merrifield can play second base, first base, and all three outfield spots. He has also spent some time at third base, but none since 2017. In the minors, he spent a little time at shortstop but not much. Hoerner can play second base, shortstop, and all three outfield spots. Not only can Hoerner be the Cubs’ Merrifield, but he would also fill in nicely as a replacement for super-utility man Ben Zobrist.
In July, Royals’ GM Dayton Moore stated that they would not let Merrifield go unless there was a “crazy” offer on the table. There is no evidence that Moore has backed off his statement, so the Cubs need to be careful about just how far they would go in trying to acquire the new lead-off man.
There is a lot of risk in trading for Whit Merrifield, and it will be for a pretty hefty price no matter what. The move makes sense on paper, however, but not as much when there is practically a Merrifield clone on the roster already who is eight years younger. This is a classic case of buyer beware, and it will be interesting to watch just how far the Cubs go in their pursuit.