Kansas City, Mo. — Whit Merrifield said last month he might be willing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if it meant playing for a competing team, even though he had refused to get the shot while playing for last place Kansas City Royals.
He has to make that decision now.
In a unique and potentially unprecedented situation, the Royals traded Merrifield to the Toronto Blue Jays minutes before the trading deadline on Tuesday. And if the two-time All-Star wants to play games in Canada later, Merrifield will have to get one of the approved vaccines to get into the country.
“We’ll let him do that with his family,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said, while not commenting on the matter. “We felt like we made a really good team better today.”
Merrifield was one of 10 Royals players who were not vaccinated last month, preventing them from making their trip to Toronto. When asked about his decision, Merrifield angered Kansas City fans by saying, “Something is happening and I happen to be on a team that has a chance to play in Canada in the postseason, maybe that will change. “
Many thought that meant Merrifield wouldn’t get vaccinated for his current team, but someone else would.
“The magnitude of our conversation with Whit and his vaccination status ended when we went to Toronto because it didn’t bother us after that,” said JJ Picollo, general manager of Royals. “I’m going to keep the conversations we had with Toronto private. I don’t have to talk about a player from another team.”
In the deal, the Royals received fast youngster Samad Taylor and righthander Max Castillo, who both have been able to help their big league-team this season. 24-year old Taylor hits .258 with nine homeruns and 23 stolen bases in 70 games for Triple-A Buffalo, while 23-year old Castillo has a 3.05 ERA in nine games for Toronto.
The deal also creates more opportunities for the Royals’ young core to play together.
The 33-year old Merrifield hit only .240 this season with 30 extra-base hits and 15 stolen bases in 95 games. But he’s proven to be reliable — his 553-game Iron Man streak ended last month due to a toe injury — and he led the league in hits twice, led the league in stolen bases three times and held an AL lead of 42 doubles last season.
Merrifield will earn $7 million this season and will be owed $2.75 million next season along with a $4 million bonus for less than 110 days on the injured list in 2022. He has a mutual option of $18 million for 2024 with a $500,000 buyout.
“I like Whit. I like him as a player. I like him as a person,” said Royals manager Mike Matheny before their game against the White Sox in Chicago. “But I also realize it’s no shock. This conversation started a long time ago.”
Toronto, which opened Tuesday with a three-game lead over Tampa Bay for the AL’s highest wildcard, missed outfielder George Springer for the third time in the line-up in the last four games against the Rays due to a right elbow injury.
Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said Springer will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.
“He’s going to do some stuff on the pitch today and then look at it a little bit again,” said Schneider, “but it’s nothing concrete at the moment. You definitely want to put him in a place to be good, be successful and give us so we’re hopeful that everything will go well. We hope it’s not something crazy where it’s going to hinder him and his performance and us.”
It was a busy day for the Blue Jays, who got relievers Anthony Bass and Zach Pop along with a Miami player to be named for shortstop candidate Jordan Groshans; righthander Mitch White and infielder Alex DeJesus of the Dodgers ahead of righthander Nick Frasso and lefthander Moises Brito; sent right-handed Jeremy Beasley to Pittsburgh for cash; recalled left-handed Matt Gage from Buffalo; and designated left-handed Anthony Banda for assignment.
Bass is 2/3 with an ERA of 1.41 in 45 games for Miami, while Pop is 2-0 with an ERA of 3.60 over 18 games.
“Two guys throwing hard,” said Schneider. “Anything to compliment what we have is great.”
The Royals were less busy than many expected before the deadline, although they made a late trade with the Padres by sending reserve catcher Cam Gallagher to San Diego for minor league outfielder Brent Rooker.
Gallagher has appeared in just 18 games for Kansas City this season, handing the job behind Salvador Perez to up-and-coming talent MJ Melendez. The 27-year old Rooker hit .272 this season with 19 homeruns in 61 games for Triple-A El Paso.
“I was shocked. It’s a business. I love the Royals. I will remember all the memories and I will cherish them,” said Gallagher, who spent parts of six seasons in Kansas City. “But in the end it’s a new opportunity for me.”