Phillies Free Agency

Phillies find an ideal fit with 1-year deal for Whit Merrifield

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The Phillies' roster looked one outfielder short for much of the offseason and they were content to let free agency play out with so many interesting players lingering on the market.

They did so in hopes of an ideal fit landing in their lap and that happened as they agreed to a contract Friday with outfielder/second baseman Whit Merrifield. It's a one-year deal, NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed. The Athletic reports it's worth $8 million with a club option for 2025.

The Phillies began the winter with Brandon Marsh as their projected starter in left field, Nick Castellanos locked into his spot in right field and Johan Rojas penciled in to center. The Phillies want Rojas to earn the center field job by showing offensive improvement in camp and Rojas appears to have done his part by working hard in the cage all winter, but his near future will be dictated by on-field performance.

What about an injury? What if Rojas doesn't hit? Marsh is already about a month behind schedule after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on February 9. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day, but the injury highlighted the thinness of the Phillies' outfield before the Merrifield move.

Merrifield has been a good fit for the Phillies (and most teams) for years. He's 35 now but still a productive hitter, fielder and baserunner. He's led the league in steals three times, more because of his excellent jumps and baserunning instincts than his pure speed. He was an All-Star last season with the Blue Jays, hitting .272/.318/.382 with 27 doubles, 11 home runs, 67 RBI and 26 stolen bases. He was hitting .304 with an OPS just below .800 through mid-August before ending the season in a 30-game slump.

It's hard to say where exactly Merrifield fits as of this moment. If Rojas hits enough to begin the season with the Phillies and everyone else is healthy, perhaps Merrifield begins as a super-utilityman who starts three or four times a week at various positions. He can play second base, first base and all three outfield spots.

At the very least, he gives the Phillies a strong backup at four different positions, and if there's an injury or if things don't pan out early with Rojas, Merrifield could find himself starting every day. His right-handed bat should help balance out the lineup with manager Rob Thomson often opting to split up his lefties (Kyle Schwarber, Bryce Harper, Bryson Stott and Marsh). He also gives Thomson an option in left field if Marsh is struggling against lefties. Merrifield has hit .289 in his career vs. lefties with an OPS 60 points higher than his mark against righties.

The Phillies have been cautious this offseason not to block Rojas in the short- or long-term by signing an outfielder to a multi-year deal. They also weren't able to guarantee 500 plate appearances to the outfielders still looking for work as camps opened in Florida and Arizona. But as spring training draws near, as the regular season approaches, players want certainty. They want to know where they're going to be for the next eight or nine months. Dave Dombrowski, Sam Fuld and the Phillies' front office were content to play the long game to see if the right opportunity materialized, and it resulted in them bringing in a player who, on paper, fits their roster to a tee.

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