KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals could have paid versatile second baseman Whit Merrifield relatively little this year, then given him a series of one-year contracts.
Instead, they chose to reward him for both his perseverance and play.
The sides agreed to a $16.25 million, four-year contract that covers Merrifield’s arbitration years and includes up to $2 million in performance bonuses, a person familiar with the terms told The Associated Press on Monday. The deal also includes a fifth-year team option worth $10.5 million, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract has not become official.
The 30-year-old Merrifieldmust still pass a physical, though that could be completed soon. He remained in Kansas City after appearing at the club’s annual fan festival over the weekend.
Merrifield, who graduated from Davie County High School in Mocksville, was a late bloomer who didn’t break into the big leagues until 2016, when he was 27 years old. That means he still wouldn’t have been eligible for arbitration until next offseason.
But after sticking with the game through years of toiling in the minors, and often getting passed over in spring training, Merrifield has become a rock for the rebuilding franchise.
Merrifield hit .304 with an American League-leading 192 hits and 45 stolen bases last season. He also hit 12 homers and with 60 RBIs while playing a solid second base defensively, and he’s capable of playing first base, third base and all three outfield positions.
“Whit Merrifield is capable of hitting 15 or 20 home runs. We’ve seen him come close to that,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said last weekend. “He can steal bases, as we know.”
Indeed, Merrifield was only caught 10 times last season.
His speed and defense dovetail nicely with the approach Kansas City has taken to this season. The Royals signed fellow speedsters Chris Owings and Billy Hamilton while bringing back Terrance Gore, and the idea is that the Royals will be both versatile in the field and daring on the base paths.
“We’ve got so many options with Whit, with Chris and Billy. We’ve got a lot of things we can do,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’re just going to try to keep it moving. They’re guys who can be proficient at a lot of different positions.”
There also could be some good-natured competition within the club.
Merrifield may have led the majors in stolen bases last season, but Hamilton tied for fifth with 34 for Cincinnati. Another of their teammates, Adalberto Mondei, finished eighth in the majors with 32 stolen bases, even though he had half as many at-bats for the Royals last season.
“I’m sure that’s going to be (a competition) in the clubhouse for sure,” Gore said. “If we let Whit Merrifield lead the league in stolen bases, we’re not going to hear the end of it.”