The Guardians announced a host of roster moves before tonight’s contest with the Twins (relayed by Mandy Bell of MLB.com). Outfielder Oscar Mercado has been designated for assignment, while reliever Nick Sandlin was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. The moves clear active roster space for starter Aaron Civale and designated hitter Franmil Reyes, each of whom has been reinstated from the injured list. The series of transactions clears a spot on the 40-man roster, 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 2018 trade deadline in a rare prospect-for-prospects swap, sending lower level outfielders John Torres and Conner Capel the other way. Mercado reached the big leagues the following May, and he quickly cemented himself as Terry Francona’s primary center fielder. Over 482 plate appearances during his debut season, Mercado hit .269/.318/.443 and tallied 15 home runs and stolen bases apiece.
Paired with highly-regarded defensive metrics, the former second-round pick looked to have emerged as a member of the long-term core. His low walk totals and modest power always capped his offensive upside, but he showed above-average contact skills and the athleticism to make an impact on the basepaths and with the glove. That hasn’t proven the case, however, as Mercado’s productivity at the plate has taken a nosedive since his rookie year.
He didn’t hit at all during the abbreviated 2020 season, and Cleveland sent him back to Triple-A on optional assignment to open the 2021 campaign. He had a capable but unspectacular showing over 45 games with Columbus, but he was nevertheless recalled at the end of June. Mercado spent the rest of the season in the majors but managed a modest .224/.300/.369 showing through 238 plate appearances.
2021 was Mercado’s final minor league option year, meaning the Guardians had to keep him on the big league roster this season. They’ve done so for the first two and a half months, but he’s posted just a .202/.227/.377 line through 49 contests. The continued offensive difficulties eventually proved too much for the front office to ignore, particularly with Reyes now healthy and rookie outfielder Oscar Gonzalez off to an impressive start to his MLB career. Cleveland acquired Myles Straw last summer to serve as the everyday center fielder, while Steven Kwan has held his own as the primary starter in the left field.
The Guardians will now have a week to trade Mercado or try to run him through outright waivers. He’s still just 27 years old, and his combination of bat-to-ball skills and defensive acumen could lead another team to acquire him. Any club that does so would have to keep Mercado on their active roster or DFA him themselves, but he’s yet to reach arbitration eligibility and has some MLB success on his resume. That’d make him an interesting depth flier for a team searching for a fourth or fifth outfielder.