With an undefined role with the Toronto Blue Jays entering the 2023 season, Whit Merrifield certainly made the most of his opportunity and resurrected his career by the end of it. He began the season as a super utilityman when he competed with Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal for playing time at second base, along with occasional spot starts in the outfield.
However, as the season progressed, his bat would begin to come alive and make some noise. Slowly but surely, he eventually secured a spot in the everyday lineup with second base being his primary position. But Merrifield didn’t just stop there, as he regained some his dominant form seen back in his early years with the Kansas City Royals. In doing so, Merrifield put together a stellar first half, in which he hit .286 with a .734 OPS, along with 36 runs scored, 17 doubles, five home runs, 38 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 82 games played. His solid production also earned him an All-Star nod for the third time in his career. More importantly, he was so consistent and reliable that he still remained productive when he was utilized in various spots in the batting order.
Unfortunately, Merrifield would endure in a slump in the final two months of the season where he hit only .212 with a .538 OPS, along with just 17 runs scored, two home runs, 17 RBI and 34 strikeouts over 47 games played. Ultimately, he even ended up losing his starting role at second base to Biggio down the stretch and right into the playoffs.
Nevertheless, Merrifield still finished off the regular season with impressive numbers across the board with a .272 batting average, .700 OPS, 66 runs scored, 27 doubles, 11 home runs, 67 RBI, and 26 stolen bases. He was also among the team leaders (minimum 300 PA) in many offensive categories, as he ranked 4th in runs scored, 3rd in hits, 4th in doubles, 4th in RBI, first in stolen bases, and second in batting average.
More notably, he was one of the few players on the team that actually came up clutch when hitting with runners in scoring position. For the 2023 season, Merrifield batted .296 with an .807 OPS with four home runs and 57 RBI with RISP. He was even better with two outs in such situations, posting a .311 average and .892 OPS with two home runs and 27 RBI. With his consistent run production and solid offensive numbers, he ended up being the only Blue Jay to be named a finalist for the 2023 Silver Slugger Award for the Utility position.
However, what the Jays’ faithful will remember about Merrifield the most is when he spoke his mind on manager John Schneider’s decision in pulling starter José Berríos early in Game 2 of the AL Wild Card series against the Minnesota Twins. The Jays ended up losing the game and the series, and Merrifield didn’t hold back his emotions, showing his full displeasure in the post-game interview.
Even one week later, he would reiterate his thoughts and feelings on the Foul Territory podcast, hinting that he certainly did not agree on the way the game was being played and run by the organization.
As a result, Merrifield and the Blue Jays both declined their mutual option recently to allow him to officially enter free agency.
In terms of a letter grade, Merrifield was definitely in All-Star form during the first half of the season, which deserves an A. But he ended up tailing off near the end of the season and wasn’t quite the difference maker he was in the earlier months, which deserves a C. Let's meet in the middle.
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