Royals’ Whit Merrifield says he ‘poorly articulated’ vax remarks

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two-time All-Star Whit Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals apologized Friday for “poorly articulated” comments about the COVID-19 vaccine after missing the team’s trip to Canada.

Merrifield was among 10 Royals players who didn’t travel to Toronto because of their vaccination status for a four-game series against the Blue Jays before the All-Star break last week.

The 33-year-old outfielder/second baseman has been a fan favorite in Kansas City. But backlash came quickly and harshly after Merrifield said “the vaccine, what it’s supposed to do, it’s not doing. If it was doing what it was supposed to do and stopping the spread of COVID (then) I would have a little more willingness to take it, but it’s not doing that.”

He tried to clear up those comments before the Royals opened the second half with a home game against Tampa Bay.

“I’m sorry that I poorly articulated the point I was trying to make,” Merrifield said. “It’s an uncomfortable topic and I started rambling on and trying to make a point about my passion for winning that had no relevance to the topic that was being discussed. For that I am truly sorry.”

Merrifield has played his entire career for Kansas City, but some fans were not happy about a comment suggesting he might get the vaccine if he were traded to a contender.

“I didn’t say people misunderstood it, I poorly articulated the point I was trying to say,” Merrifield said. “If what was standing between me and the playoffs was this vaccine, I would consider getting it. I didn’t say I would get it for another team, or wouldn’t get it for this team, it was simply a point about showing how much I value playing in the playoffs.”

Royals manager Mike Matheny said Merrifield addressed the team about his comments and his love for Kansas City.

“He has talked with everybody, the group here and individually and we’ve moved on,” Matheny said. “It’s time to play baseball and guys are going to have to address comments made and address the fans and teammates and I believe Whit is doing his best to have those conversations and move forward.”

Merrifield is hitting .240 with 36 RBIs and 14 stolen bases.

Kansas City left almost 40% of its 26-man roster at home for an extended All-Star break, including All-Star outfielder Andrew Benintendi, and several young players.

Rookies Kyle Isbel and MJ Melendez were two of those players who didn’t make the trip. Five prospects made their debuts as the Royals lost three of four to Toronto.

In total, only 25 players in Major League Baseball hadn’t made the trip to Canada due to vaccination status. The Royals bumped that number up to 35.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t really realize what I said,” Merrifield said. “It took me reading it to understand how it could come across . I’ve wanted to play in the playoffs since the time I put on cleats and that feeling is strong. The vaccine thing . people have very strong feelings about it and I feel the way I feel about it.”

Merrifield said he’s ready for any reaction he might get from Royals fans.

“These guys in here know me and know what I’m all about and how much I care for them,” Merrifield said. “Every time I’ve taken the field and stepped between the lines I’ve given it everything I had every day. If people feel a need to express their feelings towards me, that’s perfectly fine.”

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.