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Kansas City Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield has been traded to the Toronto Blue Jays.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Whit Merrifield said last month that he might be willing to get a COVID-19 shot if it meant playing for a competing team, even though he refused to get the shot then that he was playing for last place Kansas City Royals.

He will have to make that decision now.

In a unique and potentially unprecedented situation, the Royals have traded Merrifield to the Toronto Blue Jays minutes before the trade deadline on Tuesday. And if the two-time All-Star wants to play games in Canada in the aftermath, Merrifield will need to get one of the approved vaccines to enter the country.

“We’ll let him sort this out with his family,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said, declining to comment further. “We felt like we improved a very good team today.”

Merrifield was among 10 Royals players who had not been vaccinated last month, preventing them from traveling to Toronto. Asked about his decision, Merrifield angered Kansas City fans by saying: “Something happens and I happen to be on a team that has a chance to go and play Canada in the playoffs, maybe -maybe that changes.”

Many took this to mean that Merrifield didn’t want to get vaccinated for his current team, but would do so for someone else.

“The extent of our conversation with Whit and his vaccination status ended when we were going to Toronto because after that it didn’t affect us,” Royals general manager JJ Picollo said. “The conversations we had with Toronto, I’m going to keep them private. I don’t need to talk about a player from another team.”

The Royals received youngster Samad Taylor and right-hander Max Castillo in the deal, both of whom could help their big league side this season. Taylor, 24, is hitting .258 with nine homers and 23 stolen bases in 70 games for Triple-A Buffalo while Castillo, 23, has a 3.05 ERA in nine appearances for Toronto.

The deal also creates more opportunities for the young core of the Royals to play together.

Merrifield, 33, was just hitting .240 with 30 extra hits and 15 stolen bases in 95 games this season. But he’s proven reliable — his 553-game Iron Man streak ended last month with a toe injury — and he led the league twice in hits, led the league three times in stolen bases and led the AL. 42 doubles last season.

Merrifield earns $7 million this season and owes $2.75 million next season as well as a $4 million bonus for spending less than 110 days on the injured list in 2022. He has a mutual option to $18 million for 2024 with a buyout of $500,000.

“I love Whit. I love him as a player. I love him as a person,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said before their game against the White Sox in Chicago. “But I also realize that it’s not a shock. This conversation started a long time ago.”

Toronto, which started Tuesday with a three-game lead over Tampa Bay for the AL’s top wild card, lacked an outfielder George Springer in the lineup for the third time in the last four games against the Rays with a right elbow injury.

Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider said Springer will be re-evaluated on Wednesday.

“He’s going to do stuff on the pitch today and then see it again,” Schneider said, “but it’s not something concrete right now. You really want to put him in a position to be good, to have success and help us, so hopefully everything goes well. We hope it’s not something crazy where it’s going to hamper him and his performance and us.”

It was a busy day for the Blue Jays, who got relievers Anthony Bass and Zach Pop as well as a player later named from Miami for shortstop prospect Jordan Groshans; Dodgers right-hander Mitch White and infielder Alex DeJesus for right-hander Nick Frasso and left-hander Moises Brito; sent right-hander Jeremy Beasley to Pittsburgh for money; recalled left handed Matt Gage from Buffalo; and designated southpaw Anthony Banda for assignment.

Bass is 2/3 with a 1.41 ERA in 45 games for Miami while Pop is 2-0 with a 3.60 ERA in 18 outings.

“Two guys throwing hard,” Schneider said. “Anything that compliments what we have is great.”

The Royals were less busy than many expected before the deadline, although they made a late trade with the Padres by sending backup receiver Cam Gallagher to San Diego for minor league outfielder Brent Rooker.

Gallagher has played just 18 games for Kansas City this season, stepping behind Salvador Perez with a rising perspective MJ Melendez. The 27-year-old rooker was hitting .272 with 19 home runs in 61 games for Triple-A El Paso this season.

“I was shocked. It’s a business. I love the Royals. I will remember all the memories and support them,” said Gallagher, who spent six seasons with Kansas City. “But at the end of the day, it’s a new opportunity for me.”

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