MLB Hot Stove Lowdown: Whit Merrifield joins the Phillies

It's finally time for some baseball. We're just days away from the first spring training games of the season. There continues to be a stalemate among the top remaining free agents, with Blake Snell, Cody Bellinger, Jordan Montgomery, and Matt Chapman seeking new homes. Still, teams are rounding out their spring training rosters. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Red Sox made moves for the future.

Whit Merrifield signs with the Phillies

The Phillies signed Whit Merrifield to a one-year, $8 million contract with a club option for 2025. That kind of money might suggest Merrifield could be more than just a backup, perhaps playing a super-utility role with starts at second base and corner outfield. The 35-year-old veteran slashed .272/.318/.382 with 11 homers, 66 runs scored, 67 RBI, and 26 steals across 592 plate appearances with the Blue Jays last season. Merrifield has never been much of a slugger, hitting a career-high 19 homers back in 2017, but he's still capable of being a solid stolen-base contributor with a decent batting average. The problem is that steals are no longer such a rare commodity that the lack of power hurts more than the steals help. Still, he can help fantasy teams with a power surplus that are lacking speed, as long as he can gain regular at-bats. With Bryson Stott locked in at second base, the best chance could come in the outfield. Brandon Marsh recently had surgery on his left knee but is expected to be ready for Opening Day. Should he suffer a setback, Merrifield could fill in at left field. While he currently has the inside track, Johan Rojas isn't guaranteed to win the regular center field job. If he struggles this spring, Marsh could move to center, with Merrifield taking left field.

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Brewers re-sign Brandon Woodruff

The Brewers signed Woodruff on Monday to a two-year deal, according to The New York Post's Jon Heyman. The 31-year-old right-hander was non-tendered by Milwaukee in November. After testing the free-agent market, he returns to the team that knows him best. It's likely the best move, considering Woodruff will miss the 2024 season as he recovers from right shoulder surgery with an eye on a 2025 return. Despite battling various ailments throughout his career, he's been incredible when on the mound, posting a 3.10 ERA and 28.9 percent strikeout rate across 680 1/3 innings since 2017. Woodruff posted a 2.28 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and a 74/15 K/BB ratio across 67 innings last year for the Brewers. His best season came in 2021 after he recorded a 2.56 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and a 211/43 K/BB ratio across a career-high 179 1/3 frames. Shoulder injuries are often among the worst for the long-term outlook of a starting pitcher. While he'll be out all of this season, Woodruff could be a worthy late gamble in 2025 drafts.

Red Sox sign Liam Hendriks

Similar to the Brewers, the Red Sox made a move with a look ahead to 2025, signing Hendriks to a two-year, $10 million deal with a mutual option for 2026. The deal also includes performance-related bonuses that could add an additional $10 million in value. The 35-year-old right-hander is set to miss most of the 2024 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in August, with a possible late-summer return. Hendriks made a memorable comeback last season from Stage 4 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma but made only five appearances before he was shut down. He's been one of the game's most dominant closers when healthy and had an incredible stretch from 2019-2022. In that span, he posted a 2.26 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and an elite 38.8 percent strikeout rate across 239 innings while converting 114 saves. With Kenley Jansen on the last year of his contract, there's a chance we see Hendriks saving games in Boston in 2025.

Royals acquire John Schreiber from the Red Sox

In another bullpen move, the Red Sox sent reliever John Schreiber to the Royals in exchange for right-handed starting pitching prospect David Sandlin. Schreiber has been a solid reliever for the Red Sox over the last couple of seasons. The 29-year-old right-hander posted a 3.86 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and a 53/25 K/BB ratio across 46 2/3 innings last season. He was among the dark-horse candidates to earn save chances in Boston should the team move on from Jansen. There has been speculation that the Red Sox are shopping their veteran relievers, including Jansen and Chris Martin, both of whom will become free agents after this season. Josh Winckowski and Garrett Whitlock could also factor into the closing mix. The Royals have James McArthur and Will Smith as their top save options. Schreiber gives them another right-handed option capable of pitching in high leverage. He recorded eight saves in Boston in 2022. In Sandlin, the Red Sox get a 22-year-old prospect that spent most of his season in Single-A, posting a 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and a 79/13 K/BB ratio across 58 2/3 innings. The 2022 11th-round pick will likely open the season in Double-A Portland.