Phillies Bench Adds No. 9 Merrifield Special Whiz Whit

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Philadelphia Phillies baseball team Vice President and General Manager Sam Fuld takes questions from the media during the introductory press conference for Aaron Nola, Monday, Nov. 20, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Philadelphia Phillies officially announced their signing of 35-year-old super-utility Whit Merrifield on Monday. Merrifield, an eight-year Major Leaguer with experience at just about every position under the sun, will wear No. 9 for the Phillies, most recently worn by Travis Jankowski in 2021.

Merrifield signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Phillies with a club option for the 2025 season built in. In a corresponding move, the Phillies have designated for assignment Kaleb Ort to make room on the 40-man roster.

A Strong Career

Merrifield made his Major League with the Kansas City Royals on May 18, 2016, going 1-for-3 against the Boston Red Sox, singling off David Price and playing all nine innings in left field.

That rookie season, Merrifield would start 55 games at second base for the Royals, 14 in the outfield, and a handful of starts at first and third base as well. This would be a trend that would take up a lot of Merrifield’s career, with second base being his “home base” while also making a steady stream of appearances in the outfield and elsewhere as needed.

Offensively, across seven seasons in Kansas City, Merrifield contributed a strong .286 batting average and .757 OPS while earning two All-Star Appearances in 2019 and 2021.

A contact-hitter, Merrifield’s offensive bread and butter is to get on base and utilize his speed. In 2018, he led Major League Baseball with 45 steals and has led the American League two additional years as well.

In 2022, the Royals traded Merrifield to the Toronto Blue Jays in a trade that brought them OF Brent Rooker (now an Oakland Athletic). Merrifield, who had been having a down year with the Royals to that point, returned to typical form post-trade for the Blue Jays, bringing his average back up 40 points to .281 in 44 games with the Jays.

Concerns Over What Merrifield Has Left to Offer the Phillies

Last season, Merrifield had a strong season, earning his third All-Star Appearance for Toronto. At the All-Star Break, Merrifield had recorded 86 hits for a .286 average, .734 OPS, and 19 steals in 26 opportunities.

Over the second half, however, Merrifield began to slow down. A groin injury in September certainly played into it, but Merrifield’s statistics in the second half of the season dropped down to .256/.656 with seven stolen bases across 63 games played.

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2022-231142275.262.68742 (15)

From 2019 to 2021, Merrifield appeared in all 384 regular season games with the Royals (including all 60 of the shortened 2020 season). That pace slowed down slightly over 2022-23, where Merrifield missed 40 games over the two seasons for the Royals and Blue Jays.

His statistics over the last two seasons indicate that the 35-year-old might be starting to run out of steam throughout a 162-game season, but the Phillies will not be looking for Merrifield to be a 162-game player either.

Great Depth Addition and Potential to Start

The Phillies’ starting lineup is set going into Spring Training. Bryson Stott has earned the job at second base while Brandon Marsh and Johan Rojas continue to slot in as the starting left and center fielders, respectively.

Merrifield slots into the Phillies as an all-around bench player who, under Rob Thomson, will likely yield one or two starts per week based on matchups. Specifically, Merrifield will likely be paired with Brandon Marsh and get some starts against lefties in his stead.

His defensively flexible skillset will also mean he can make spot starts during injured list stints for just about anyone on the diamond, catcher notwithstanding. Merrifield’s Major League experience is primarily at second base and in the outfield, but it is not outside of the picture to see Merrifield getting comfortable across the infield as well this Spring just in case he is needed.

Added Threat of Speed to Phillies’ Bench

Perhaps the most intriguing addition Merrifield brings to the Phillies is an added threat of speed on the base path. Bryson Stott has made sure to let Trea Turner know he led the team in steals in 2023 with 31 (Turner had 30).

Outside of the middle infield, however, the Phillies are primarily known for their power bats. Sure, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos, and Bryce Harper each swiped at least 10 bags last season, but they’re all known for their 20+ home run production over their ability to steal bases.

Johan Rojas, in his 59 games with the Phillies, stole 14 bases in 2023. If Rojas proves himself worthy of starting every day in the outfield in 2024, that gives the Phillies a third base stealer in the conversation.

Merrifield is a fourth. One that, should he be on the bench late in the game, can be utilized as a well-timed pinch-runner and base stealer to get the Phillies critical runs late across the plate. Not to mention “Two-Hit Whit” will certainly rack up a few swiped bags on his own throughout the season in the starts he receives.

Whit Fits the Phillies Well

The Phillies have been relatively quiet this offseason with their only large splash having been re-signing Aaron Nola. Bringing Merrifield into the fold is not a ground-breaking addition for the Phillies, but it adds depth and a veteran presence to the clubhouse that can only help the Phillies moving forward.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)