The Blue Jays have a very interesting weapon in Merrifield and should look to use it in several different situations
When the Toronto Blue Jays traded for Whit Merrifield at the Trade Deadline (for Samad Taylor and Max Castillo) last summer, it came with a mixed bag of reactions. Everything from, ‘This guy can steal 40 bases’ to ‘This guys hasn’t had a league average bat in two years’ could be heard in various places. But, now that the 2023 team seems to be all but finalized, things could be different for Merrifield. The Blue Jays should look to get Whitty with it this summer.
Firstly, it is true that Merrifield had a couple of seasons where his wRC+ put him below even league average. 2021 saw a wRC+ of 90, an OPS of .711 and an Off rating of -1.3. These aren’t terrible numbers, but they aren’t exactly great eaither. They’re not numbers Blue Jays fans will look to and get excited about. 2022 saw him follow that up with an even worse offensive performance: 88 wRC+, .673 OPS and an Off rating of -4.6.
So, why should we be excited about this season from Merrifield? Well, firstly, it is important to note that while he was having a pretty down year in 2021, he was committing theft rather regularly. He collected 40 stolen bases. He was only caught 4 times that year. With bigger bases and the shift being eliminated, perhaps we see Merrifield return to those stealing ways. Just imagine a guy stealing bases in front of that top of the order.
Even while posting sub average offense, Merrifield was continuing to be a solid defender. In 2021, his Def rating was 6.9 and he put up 14 DRS, a UZR/150 of 5 and 6 OAA, mostly at second base. The Royals did try him in the outfield to mixed results, so he can be used there, but perhaps in small doses as his OF metrics aren’t as appealing. 2022 saw him put up 3 OAA, -5 DRS and a UZR/150 of 0.3. It was a step back, for sure. However, perhaps a season without the turmoil of picking your life up and moving to another city will allow him to play more comfortably and get back to his previous form at the keystone position.
The real appeal to having Whit Merrifield on the roster is his ability to provide versatility. Like Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio, there isn’t a single everyday position for Merrifield to claim as his own. What is likely to happen is that he will see the bulk of his time at second, but will provide an outifeld backup option as well as late inning speed on the basepaths. Those elements are definitely appealing to a team that will be pulling out all the stops to collect those wins.
The ideal role for Merrifield is just that: second baseman who provides roster flexibility. However, complicating things for him – not the club because they love having too much talent for too few spots – is the fact that Espinal was an All Star and, perhaps more than most, truly earned his playing time. Now, he can fill in at shortstop, second and third, so perhaps he isn’t as big a hurdle for Merrifield to climb. Biggio will also need some playing time and with Brandon Belt brought in to back up Vladimir Guerrero Jr.at first, there aren’t many places Biggio can play. Sure, he’s played third base, but did not do so well there. Perhaps Biggio is the odd man out, but that’s a topic for another day.
Having multiple options for multiple positions is important to a contending team. Covering for games without the stars is mart of what decides your fate. Whit Merrifield may not be one of the Blue Jays’ stars, but he absolutely will be a big part of their success. With solid defense and the ability to steal bases, Whit Merrifield will help this team win. The more the Blue Jays use their Whit, the more they’ll win.
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The post Blue Jays Should Rely Heavily on their Whit first appeared on Jays From The Couch.