Royals Rework Whit Merrifield’s Contract

6:58pm: Merrifield’s escalators are based on the number of days he spends on the injured list, MLBTR has learned. So long as he spends fewer than 110 days on the IL this year, he’ll receive the full $6.75MM in 2023.

6:19pm: The Royals announced this evening they’ve agreed to a restructured contract with infielder/outfielder Whit Merrifield. The club has preemptively exercised its 2023 team option, and the parties have added a mutual option covering the 2024 season. Merrifield is represented by Warner Sports Management.

Anne Rogers of MLB.com reports the financial breakdown of the deal (on Twitter). Merrifield will make $7MM in 2022 and $2.75MM in 2023 (with an additional $4MM in possible escalators). The deal also contains an $18MM mutual option for 2024 that contains a $500K buyout.

It’s an atypical tack for a team to take, but the Royals and Merrifield have had a very productive 12-year relationship. The Kansas City organization is generally regarded as one of the most loyal in the sport, and the Royals front office was steadfast about keeping Merrifield even as they rebuilt in recent seasons. There’s little question club brass is fond of the University of South Carolina product, and that affinity presumably contributed to their decision to exercise his 2023 option a year early.

Of course, there was never much doubt it’d be picked up. Kansas City signed Merrifield to a four-year extension that guaranteed him $16.25MM back in January 2019. That was a very affordable deal reflecting his status as a late bloomer, as Merrifield didn’t break camp on an Opening Day roster until 2017 — his age-28 campaign. With no path to free agency until his mid-30s, Merrifield elected to lock in some guaranteed earnings, while the club avoided his salaries escalating especially high via arbitration.

Under the terms of his previous contract, which had been front-loaded, Merrifield had been slated to make $3.25MM this year with a $7MM club option that would’ve escalated to $11MM for 2023 had he avoided a lengthy IL stint. As Mark Feinsand of MLB.com points out (on Twitter), the renegotiation more evenly distributes the team’s commitments over the next two years, paying Merrifield more up-front while clearing some payroll space next season.

Kansas City’s payroll jumps to around $97MM, in the estimate of Jason Martinez of Roster Resource. The team’s 2023 commitments dip to approximately $36MM. Kansas City isn’t punting on the 2022 campaign, but they’re a bit of a longshot competitor in the AL Central. With young players like Bobby Witt Jr., Nick Pratto and MJ Melendez set to arrive this year, the 2023 season and beyond should be firm win-now seasons. The front office will have a bit more money with which to work next offseason, while Merrifield is no doubt happy for the immediate raise (and the insurance that preemptively exercising the option guarantees in the event of a catastrophic injury this year).

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