Phillies land Whit Merrifield to bolster depth: Thoughts on his role, contract and roster

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Whit Merrifield was never going to be a part-time player, and all winter, the Philadelphia Phillies made him an offer that meant sacrificing at-bats. The Phillies were unable to guarantee playing time for him and were not willing to sign him to a two-year deal. But they liked the idea of ​​a versatile right-handed bat playing left field and second base — two positions manned by the Phillies' younger hitters.

There's an opportunity to help a rival team, Velez told the 35-year-old utility man. On Friday, the two sides reached an agreement. Merrifield, who will sign a one-year, $8 million contract with a club option for 2025, will be in Phillies camp by Monday for the team's first full workout.

Merrifield's deal, according to major league sources, could reach a maximum of $16.6 million. His 2024 salary will be $7 million, and if the Phillies don't exercise their $8 million club option for 2025, Merrifield will receive a $1 million buyout.

The deal is awaiting physical.

He will essentially become the team's fourth baseman, although his ability to play the field could help him collect more hits. Merrifield won't replace Johan Rojas or Brandon Marsh in the outfield, but he does provide a bit of insurance for an organization that entered the spring with very weak outfield depth.

Now, if there is a strong lefty on the mound, Merrifield could start in left field while Marsh sits out. Or, if Rojas is struggling at the plate and the Phillies feel they need more offense on a given day, Merrifield could play left field while Marsh slides into center. Merrifield's best spot is second base, so he can spell Bryson Stott against a lefty.

Whit Merrifield made a slide catch last season. (David Richard/USA Today)

Adding Merrifield squeezes Jake Cave or Cristian Pache from the initial roster offer. Both Cave and Pache are out of minor league options. On the bench, as of now, will be Merrifield, Edmundo Sosa, Garrett Stubbs and perhaps one of Keefe or Bache. Keefe would have a slight advantage in that debate because he is a left-handed hitter while Merrifield and Sosa are both right-handed.

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Merrifield is a decent runner, although he has lost a step at this point in his career. He led the American League with 40 stolen bases in 2021 but has caught just 42 of 57 the past two seasons.

There was optimism within the Phillies organization that Merrifield could thrive in a part-time role. He played in 553 straight games for the Royals from 2018 to 2022. But with age, his production has declined in the face of a heavy workload. Last season, he hit .303/.351/.420 in 396 games through July 31. In the last two months, his body deteriorated. He failed to make solid contact at a consistent rate. He hit just .212/.250/.288 in the final 196 games of the season. His offensive production against lefties has faded in recent years, and it will be a priority for Merrifield to improve that with the Phillies.

The Phillies may try to experiment with Merrifield at third base this spring just to add another option. They are comfortable with him in left and right field and at second and first base. He can stand in the center of the field, if necessary, but that is not strength. The $8 million price tag isn't cheap for a part-time player, but the Phillies' lack of solid depth in the minors has forced them to take out insurance policies this winter. They have stocked their rotation reserves by guaranteeing $2 million for Spencer Turnbull and another potential $1 million for Colby Allard.

They can continue to accumulate depth through minor league deals. Major-league sources said the Phillies remain more interested in promoting promotions — whether through a trade or free agency — but any meaningful acquisitions may not happen until July. The Phillies have expressed their desire to see what they have in Rojas and Marsh over the first three months of the season. This has not changed. Adding Merrifield to the mix provides, to say the least, an expensive safety net.

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(Top photo by Whit Merrifield: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

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