KANSAS CITY — A day before the Royals kick off the 2022 regular season, they restructured the contract of one of their veteran leaders and faces of the franchise, ensuring Whit Merrifield will stay with Kansas City through at least ’23.
The Royals announced Wednesday night that they agreed to a restructured contact with super utility man Merrifield. As part of the agreement, they have exercised their club option on Merrifield for 2023 and added a mutual option for ’24 — potentially keeping Merrifield a year longer than he was originally signed.
Merrifield and the Royals connected after last season about this restructuring, and traction about the new deal picked up during Spring Training.
“Whit’s such an integral part of what we’re doing, not only today but the next two years,” general manager J.J. Picollo said. “And to work with him and really recognize how important he is to our organization, we thought it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. Whit can put that thought of whether or not we’re picking up the option behind him now and just go play. Enjoy the year. And we have some benefit as well. That’s what good partners do, and I think we both had something to gain out of it.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the club, but a source told MLB.com that Merrifield’s new deal includes a guaranteed $10.25 million. The mutual option is worth $18 million in 2024 with a $500,000 buyout. Here is what the restructured contract looks like by year, per a source:
2022: $7 million
2023: $2.75 million with $4 million in escalators
2024: $18 million or a $500,000 buyout
The club anticipates Merrifield hitting all the escalators in 2023, and if he does, that will bring his guaranteed money up to $14.25 million. Those escalators are based on him staying healthy and are no different than what his original contract, signed in 2019, had him making this year. In that original deal, Merrifield’s club option in ’23 was $10.5 million or a $750,000 buyout.
“I just felt like it was the right thing for me to do right now and at this point in my career,” Merrifield said. “Other things that we talked about, I’ll keep between me and the team.
“I love Kansas City. I think we got a real bright future. I’m excited to be here at least for the foreseeable future, for now, and to see this organization get back to where it needs to be.”
Merrifield, 33, posted a .712 OPS last season and led the American League in stolen bases (40) for the third time in his six-year career. He also tied for the Majors lead with 42 doubles, becoming the first player to lead the AL in both steals and doubles since Charlie Gehringer in 1929.
Kansas City’s ninth-round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft out of the University of South Carolina, Merrifield made his debut in ’16 at 27 years old. He has been linked to trade rumors almost every year since, but the Royals have been adamant that they see Merrifield as part of their future, backing up that claim with the extension he signed in ’19.
The same mindset still applies with the new contract, as Merrifield is crucial to the club’s vision of sustained success, not only with his versatility on the field but with his leadership in a clubhouse full of young players.
Merrifield enters the 2022 season having played in 469 consecutive games, which is a Royals record and the longest active streak in the Majors. He has started games in six defensive positions in his big league career, including second base (526), right field (110), center field (63), left field (24), first base (10) and third base (three). He’s slated to be the Royals’ Opening Day right fielder on Thursday, as well as the club’s leadoff man.
Last year marked the second 40-double/40-steal season of Merrifield’s career (2018), making him one of seven players in Major League history to record multiple such seasons, joining Brian Roberts (2007-08), Hanley Ramírez (2006-07), Alfonso Soriano (2002, ’06), George Sisler (1920, ’22), Tris Speaker (1912, ’14) and Ty Cobb (1911, ’17).