The com­pli­cated fu­ture of Mer­ri­field and the Roy­als

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Sports - BY SAM MELLINGER

This is the sea­son of base­ball play­ers chang­ing teams and one of the sport’s more valu­able trade as­sets is Roy­als prop­erty. Done right, they could push some other con­tender to­ward a cham­pi­onship while bol­ster­ing their own chances in the fu­ture. A win-win.

The rea­sons they prob­a­bly won’t do that tell the story of who the Roy­als are, who they see them­selves to be, and the foun­da­tion of their plan to win an­other cham­pi­onship.

Whit Mer­ri­field led all ma­jor­lea­guers in hits and steals while play­ing five de­fen­sive po­si­tions. He has four years of club con­trol re­main­ing, and in 2019 will make slightly more than the league min­i­mum salary.

He is pro­duc­tive, cheap, ver­sa­tile, ath­letic, and could in­stantly fit to­ward the top of a cham­pi­onship club’s or­der.

In­ter­nally, the Roy­als be­lieve the core of their next con­tender will be in the big leagues by 2021, when Mer­ri­field will be

32. Viewed coldly as re­turn on in­vest­ment, now is the best time to trade him. The younger talent ac­quired would be ma­tur­ing by 2021, when Mer­ri­field is likely to be fad­ing.

Day­ton Moore, the ar­chi­tect and fore­man of the Roy­als’ last world cham­pion, knows that Mer­ri­field prob­a­bly will never be more valu­able in the eyes of other teams — he will never be younger, never be cheaper, and never of­fer more years of club con­trol.

All of that is true, and so is this: Moore is un­likely to trade. Three pri­mary con­sid­er­a­tions stand above the oth­ers, each a mix of prac­ti­cal­ity, emo­tion, and com­mit­ment to slow cook the next cham­pi­onship core.

No. 1: Who is the right trade part­ner?

The trade of Zack Greinke af­ter the 2010 sea­son is the Roy­als’ clos­est com­par­i­son to what a trade of Mer­ri­field would look like now.

There are sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences. Greinke was four years younger and bet­ter than Mer­ri­field, who is cheaper and with

of the way his team played in a per­for­mance that was rem­i­nis­cent of many of those great Shock­ers teams that came be­fore them.

“They have to un­der­stand the strength of our pro­gram has been tough­ness and play­ing with in­tel­li­gence and be­ing gritty,” Mar­shall said. “Whether we’re smaller or slower, just over­com­ing that by play­ing an­gry and play­ing harder and want­ing to win more than the other team.”

Tues­day’s loss hit the play­ers hard. Fri­day of­fered mul­ti­ple chances for WSU to let it snow­ball, es­pe­cially down by 10 af­ter five min­utes.

But the Shock­ers showed re­siliency in their de­ter­mined ef­fort not to lose again, even to a highly rated op­po­nent.

“We showed our heart,” se­nior Haynes-Jones said. “We showed we can go out and play through ad­ver­sity and come out with a big win like this. It’s def­i­nitely a con­fi­dence booster.”

3. ‘I COULDN’T LET MY TEAM DOWN AGAIN’

McDuffie has cer­tainly ben­e­fited from the con­fi­dence in­stilled in him by his coach­ing staff and team­mates.

Af­ter McDuffie missed eight of 11 shots against Louisiana Tech, his team had his back. He had been the team’s best player all sum­mer. He was its leader. His team­mates didn’t turn on him af­ter one poor per­for­mance, and that meant ev­ery­thing to McDuffie.

“It’s not hard when you got a bunch of team­mates that look out for you, love you, they know how good you are and how hard you work in prac­tice,” McDuffie said. “I knew I had to stay pos­i­tive.”

Even when McDuffie missed his first four shots on Fri­day, he re­mained con­fi­dent.

“Those shots, they were good shots,” McDuffie said. “My coaches kept telling me to keep shooting, just keep go­ing. I didn’t put my head down, I just kept go­ing. I know I couldn’t let my team down again.”

Sure enough, those open looks be­gan fall­ing for McDuffie.

Iron­i­cally, it was McDuffie’s worst shot at­tempt of the night — a flail­ing 5-footer when he was fall­ing to the ground that rat­tled in — that got him go­ing.

McDuffie said his mind­set was im­por­tant to his suc­cess on Fri­day. He fin­ished the game 12 of 19 from the field, in­clud­ing a ca­reer-best 6-of-9 shooting on threes.

“I knew the next one will go in, I kept telling my­self that,” McDuffie said. “I just had to stay con­fi­dent. I didn’t try to

4. A SUR­PRISE SHOOTING PER­FOR­MANCE

Af­ter the way WSU shot in its ex­hi­bi­tion game and in its sea­son opener, Mar­shall said he was pleas­antly sur­prised when the Shock­ers made 12 of 22 three-point­ers and half of their shots from the field.

But it was also a sur­prise be­cause WSU’s warmup rou­tine was thrown for a loop due to heavy traf­fic in An­napo­lis.

“I don’t know what hap­pened, but our lit­tle five-minute drive from the ho­tel to the arena was like a grid­lock we don’t see in Wi­chita,” Mar­shall said. “I felt like I was in New York City. We lit­er­ally had to take an­other route and go through down­town An­napo­lis to get here.

“By that time, we were scram­bling to get dressed. Maybe the ur­gency of get­ting here and hav­ing to stretch and warm up and get ready to play a bas­ket­ball game was to our ben­e­fit.”

Af­ter strug­gling from the floor on Tues­day, WSU’s two se­niors, McDuffie and Hay­nesJones, were ex­cel­lent against Providence. Col­lec­tively, they made 18 of 33 shots and scored 47 points.

WSU also cor­rected its other weak­ness from Tues­day: round­ing. Af­ter los­ing the re­bound­ing bat­tle to Louisiana Tech by 11 at home, the Shock­ers won the bat­tle on the glass against Providence by four and grabbed 47 per­cent of the avail­able of­fen­sive re­bounds.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY AP

Wi­chita State guard Sa­ma­jae Haynes-Jones drives past Providence guard David Duke in the sec­ond half of Fri­day’s game at the Vet­er­ans Clas­sic in An­napo­lis, Md.

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