The Guardians announced ahead of today’s competition with the Twins (Relayed by MLB.com’s Mandy Bell). outfielder Oscar Mercado was destined for assignment while discharge Nick Sandlin was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. The trains clear the active roster slot for starters Aaron Civale and designated thug Franmil Reyes, each of whom was reinstated from the injured list. The series of transactions frees a spot on the 40-man list, which now totals 39.
Mercado has been a member of the Cleveland organization for nearly four years. The club acquired him from the Cardinals at the close of trade in 2018 in a rare prospect-for-prospect exchange and sent lower-level outfielders John Torres and Conner Capel the other way. Mercado reached the major leagues the following May and quickly established himself as Terry Francona’s key midfielder. Over 482 plate appearances during his debut season, Mercado averaged .269/.318/.443 and hit 15 home runs and stolen bases apiece.
Coupled with highly respected defensive metrics, the former second-round pick appeared to have become a member of the long-term core. His low walk totals and modest power have always crowned his offense highs, but he displayed above-average contact skills and the athleticism to impress on the basepaths and with the glove. That hasn’t come true, however, as Mercado’s productivity at the plate has taken a nosedive since his freshman year.
He didn’t score at all during the shortened 2020 season, and Cleveland sent him back to Triple-A on an optional assignment to open the 2021 campaign. He put on a capable but unspectacular performance with Columbus over 45 games, but was still recalled in late June. Mercado spent the remainder of the season in the majors but managed a modest .224/.300/.369 shown by 238 plate appearances.
2021 was Mercado’s last option year in the minor league, meaning the Guardians needed to keep him on the big league list this season. They did this for the first two and a half months, but he’s only posted one .202/.227/.377 line in 49 contests. The continued offensive difficulties eventually proved too much for the front office to ignore, especially with Reyes now healthy and a rookie outfielder Oscar Gonzalez got off to an impressive start to his MLB career. Acquired Cleveland Myles Straw to serve as an everyday center fielder last summer while StevenKwan has held its own as the main starter in left field.
The Guardians now have a week to trade Mercado or attempt to take him through outright waivers. He’s still only 27 years old and his combination of stick-to-ball skills and defensive acumen could see another team consider adopting him. Any club that does would need to keep Mercado on their active roster or keep him from DFA themselves, but he has yet to achieve arbitration eligibility and has some MLB achievements on his resume. That would make him an interesting low flyer for a team looking for a fourth or fifth outfielder.