BRENT STECKER

Mariners Trade Deadline: The Whit Merrifield rumor may have legs

Jul 26, 2021, 10:17 AM | Updated: 12:35 pm
Mariners Whit Merrifield...
The Mariners are reportedly "making a push" to trade for Royals 2B Whit Merrifield. (Getty)
(Getty)

It’s July 26, and the surprising Seattle Mariners haven’t gone anywhere.

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Not only are they on the Oakland Athletics’ heels in the American League wild card race, but they just made up a lot of ground by taking three of four from the A’s at T-Mobile Park over the weekend. That big series win put Seattle a season-high eight games above .500 (54-46) and cut their deficit behind Oakland to only 1 1/2 games just in time for what adds up to a monumental week ahead for the M’s.

On Monday, the AL West leading Houston Astros come to town. And on Friday, it’s the MLB trade deadline. Expect some work to be done.

What the Mariners have accomplished to this point is enough to justify the front office adding reinforcements to help the club put its best foot forward in an attempt to end the team’s long playoff drought. And just before Seattle put a bow on Sunday’s 4-3 win over the A’s, a report surfaced on just how high general manager Jerry Dipoto may be shooting.

In a way, the possibility of Whit Merrifield becoming a Mariner at some point in his career seems almost inevitable. He’s essentially the prototype of the kind of player Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have talked about wanting on their teams since they arrived in Seattle prior to the 2016 season. He gets on base, he puts pressure on opponents, and you can play him just about anywhere. And according to Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for 710 ESPN Seattle, Sunday’s report by MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand about the Mariners making a push to get Merrifield from the Royals has legitimate legs.

It’s easy to see why Dipoto might envision Merrifield, who has a .272/.319/.402 slash line with eight home runs, 22 doubles and two triples this season, as a good fit for the Mariners.

Right now, the Mariners have an obvious need at second base. Dylan Moore has played excellent defense at the position this season but can’t seem to find a way to the Mendoza line with his batting average, so acquiring a new second baseman would allow Seattle to return Moore, who has nine homers and 15 stolen bases in 18 attempts, to a utility role where he could still contribute to the team in a more strategic manner.

The Mariners also really could use a right-handed bat that provides consistent professional plate appearances, something two-time All-Star Merrifield has given Kansas City in his six MLB seasons.

Then there’s the fact that Servais likes his teams to run, and there is nobody better at that in the game today than Merrifield, who even at 32 years old leads the majors with 25 steals while being caught just once all season.

And then there’s the point Feinsand made about Merrifield being under team control through 2023. Dipoto has stressed in recent editions of his weekly show on 710 ESPN Seattle that the Mariners are not interested in rentals at the trade deadline and are prioritizing players that can figure into the team’s plans past this season.

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Following Feinsand’s report, a few questions need to be asked.

First, how much would a deal for Merrifield cost the Mariners? The multiple remaining years on his contract add value, as does his status as an All-Star who can play every defensive position except shortstop and catcher. If you’re Royals GM Dayton Moore, you’re probably not out of line asking for one of Seattle’s prospects whose names would hurt for M’s fans to read in a trade rumor. And if you’re Dipoto, you’re probably doing everything you can to make a deal without parting with one of the top seven young players in the organization (Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodríguez, Logan Gilbert, Emerson Hancock, George Kirby, Noelvi Marte and Cal Raleigh).

That leads to another question: Will the Mariners be willing to give up enough to get Merrifield, especially considering other teams will likely make offers to Kansas City for him? That’s a tough one to answer until a trade is – or isn’t – called into the commissioner’s office.

Next, could the M’s answer their other big need – a starting pitcher – in the same trade with the Royals for Merrifield? Left-hander Danny Duffy, who has pitched well when healthy (2.51 ERA in 13 appearances), would be a nice get for the Mariners, except he landed on the injured list last week for the second time this season with a flexor strain. Fellow veteran southpaw Mike Minor may be a buy-low option as he’s struggled to the tune of a 5.84 ERA, but those struggles may also turn the fact that he’s due $10 million next season into an issue.

Now, the final question: Who are the other available options at second base if the M’s are unable to get Merrifield? With Adam Frazier going from Pittsburgh to San Diego on Sunday, Arizona’s Eduardo Escobar is likely next in line to get attention. He doesn’t completely fit what Seattle is looking for as he’s a free agent after this season, however. Minnesota is another team that will sell, and Jorge Polanco is a nice player worth making a call about, but at 28 and with four years left on his contract, he wouldn’t be easy to pry away from the Twins.

Someone I would keep an eye on is Detroit’s Jonathan Schoop. While he’s a free agent after this season, he’s also had to settle for one-year deals with the Tigers in each of the past two years. He’s a heck of a right-handed bat (17 homers, .800 OPS this season) and maybe a player who could be talked into re-signing.

That all considered, Merrifield makes the most sense for Seattle at second. The contract, the positional flexibility, the style of play – they’re all the things Dipoto and Servais seem to be looking for. Only a few more days to see if he truly is the inevitable Mariner.

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