6: 46 PM ET
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals sent utility man Whit Merrifield to the Blue Jays just minutes before Tuesday’s trade deadline, even though the two-time All-Star was unvaccinated against COVID-19 and had to miss Kansas City’s trip to Toronto last month.
It’s unclear whether Merrifield, who has primarily played second base but is capable of playing anywhere in the outfield and across the infield, has received or is planning to get the shot required of all players traveling to Canada.
Merrifield drew the ire of Royals fans when, prior to their trip to Toronto, he said: “Something happens and I happen to get on a team that has a chance to go play in Canada in the postseason, maybe that changes.”
Many in Kansas City took that to mean he wouldn’t get vaccinated for his last-place team but would be open to it for a contender.
Roughly three weeks later, Merrifield has been placed in precisely that situation.
“I like Whit. I like him as a player. I like him as a person,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said before their game Tuesday against the White Sox in Chicago. “But I also realize that it’s not a shock. This conversation started a long time ago.
“Realizing that this day would come most likely at some point kind of prepares you,” Matheny said, “but definitely, you care about all these guys as people, know their families and know their stories.”
In exchange, the Royals received speedy outfielder Samad Taylor and right-hander Max Castillo, both of whom could help their big league team as soon as this season. The 24-year-old Taylor is hitting .258 with nine homers and 23 stolen bases in 70 games for Triple-A Buffalo while the 23-year-old Castillo has a 3.05 ERA in nine appearances for Toronto.
The 33-year-old Merrifield is hitting .240 with 30 extra-base hits and 15 stolen bases in 95 games this season. But he has proved to be dependable — his 553-game Iron Man streak ended last month because of a toe injury — and he has led the league in hits twice, led the league in stolen bases three times and had an American League-leading 42 doubles last season.
Merrifield is making $7 million this season and is due $2.75 million next season along with a $4 million bonus for spending fewer than 110 days on the injured list in 2022. He has an $18 million mutual option for 2024 with a $500,000 buyout.
Toronto, which began Tuesday with a three-game lead over Tampa Bay for the AL’s top wild card, was missing outfielder George Springer in the lineup for the third time in the past four games against the Rays due to a right elbow injury.
Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said Springer will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
“He’s going to do some stuff on the field today and then kind of revisit it,” Schneider said, “but it’s not anything concrete right now. You definitely want to put him in a spot to be good, have success and help us, so we’re hopeful that everything goes good. We hope it’s not anything 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 player to be named later from Miami for shortstop prospect Jordan Groshans; received right-hander Mitch White and infielder Alex DeJesus from the Dodgers for right-hander Nick Frasso and left-hander Moises Brito; sent right-hander Jeremy Beasley to Pittsburgh for cash; recalled left-hander Matt Gage from Buffalo; and designated left-hander Anthony Banda for assignment.
Bass is 2/3 with 1.41 ERA in 45 games for Miami while Pop is 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA over 18 outings.
“Two guys that throw hard,” Schneider said. “Anything to kind of compliment what we have is awesome.”
The Royals were less busy than many expected ahead of the deadline, though they did swing a late trade with the Padres by sending backup catcher Cam Gallagher to San Diego for minor league outfielder Brent Rooker.
Gallagher played in just 18 games for Kansas City this season, ceding the backup job to Salvador Perez to rising prospect MJ Melendez. The 27-year-old Rooker was hitting .272 with 19 homers in 61 games for Triple-A El Paso this season.