Toronto Blue Jays: Whit Merrifield’s Role for 2023
By Evan Gignac
Whit Merrifield was acquired somewhat surprisingly at the 2022 trade deadline in exchange for Max Castillo and utility-man prospect Samad Taylor from the Kansas City Royals. Merrifield was acquired to help ease the load of the entire lineup, as he brought a veteran presence and the ability to play all over the field at an above average level. His defence was never the question, the mystery was whether or not his bat would add or subtract value from the team’s overall offensive production.
Merrifield’s 2022 began poorly with the Royals, as over 95 games his OPS+ sat at a measly 82. His first weeks in Toronto weren’t any more encouraging, as his .211/.274/.481 slash line in August left a lot to be desired. Outside of his versatility and the speed that he was hardly ever on base to actually use, Whit’s assistance to the Jays was virtually non-existent.
However, the veteran flipped the script in September, as he was legitimately a top player on the team. Merrifield posted a .949 OPS throughout September and October (regular season) while playing mostly second-base.
The end of this season could shed some light into how the Blue Jays might be set to utilize Merrifield in 2023. Whit performed himself into the starting second-baseman job. Given the talent throughout the rest of the lineup, Merrifield playing second and hitting in the bottom of the lineup is a very possible scenario for the Blue Jays in 2023. To many fans, this may seem like a gamble seeing as how mediocre Whit had been in recent years, however, I’m ready to see the 33 year old get regular playing time, and here’s why.
The Blue Jays are set to enter 2023 with at least three viable options for second. Cavan Biggio, who has the highest offensive potential of the three, but is coming off of a down season. Santiago Espinal remains the best defensive option, but is a fairly average offensive player. Whit is a bit of both, as he’s historically an average fielder at second, and carried an OPS+ of 107 during his prime years in Kansas City (2017-2021). Given Merrifield’s overall strong start to his Jays tenure, thanks in large part to a torrid September, I think he’s due for regular playing time, but not just at second.
Biggio and Espinal have done their part to earn playing time as well. Espinal is a stud, and fans forget just how good Biggio was in his first two seasons, and at only 27 years of age it’s perfectly feasible he has another productive season as soon as 2023. This being said, Whit should be splitting second base between all three of them. To make up for the rest of the due regular playing time, Merrifield can also help out in the outfield.
His versatility and potential with the bat pair well with Merrifield’s ability to stay on the field. He didn’t miss a game from 2019-2021, a trait that is in short supply in today’s game. This contrasts to the volatile health of Blue Jays outfielders such as George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.. When not playing second, Merrifield remains a good option to cover any of the three outfield spots when one of the mainstays is DHing or having a scheduled off-day. Overall, I say that the Blue Jays should be set to give Whit his fair share of opportunities. A super-utility role that sees him play second base and the outfield seems to be a good fit, and a role that should make him one of the more valuable players on the 2023 Toronto Blue Jays.