The Guardians have announced a host of roster changes ahead of tonight’s contest with the Twins (broadcast by MLB.com’s Mandy Bell). outfielder Oscar Mercado was designated for assignment, while the reliever Nick Sandlin was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Moves free up space on the active roster for the starter Aaron Civale and designated hitter Franmil Reyes, each of whom was reinstated from the injured list. The series of deals frees up a spot on the 40-man roster, which now has 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 swap, sending lower-level outfielders John Torres and Conner Capel the other side. Mercado reached the major leagues the following May, and he quickly established himself as Terry Francona’s primary center back. Over 482 plate appearances in his first season, Mercado hit .269/.318/.443 and had 15 home runs and stolen bases apiece.
Coupled with some highly regarded defensive moves, the former second-round pick seemed to have emerged as a long-term core member. His low walk totals and modest power always capped his offensive advantage, but he showed above-average contact skills and the athleticism to make an impact on base paths and with the gauntlet. That didn’t prove the case, however, as Mercado’s productivity at the plate has plummeted 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 performance in over 45 games with Columbus, but he was nevertheless recalled at the end of June. Mercado spent the rest of the season at the majors, but managed a modest .224/.300/.369 in 238 plate appearances.
2021 was Mercado’s last minor league option year, meaning the Guardians needed to keep him on the big league roster this season. They did for the first two and a half months, but he only posted a .202/.227/.377 line through 49 contests. The lingering offensive struggles ultimately proved too much for the front office to ignore, especially with Reyes now healthy and a rookie outfielder. Oscar González an impressive start to his MLB career. Cleveland acquired Myles Straw last summer to serve as an everyday center fielder, while Steven Kwan held firm as the primary starter in left field.
The Guardians will now have a week to trade Mercado or try to get him waived outright. He’s still just 27, and his combination of batting skills and defensive acumen could lead to another team acquiring him. Any club that does would have to keep Mercado on its active roster or DFA itself, but it has yet to reach arbitration eligibility and has some MLB success on its resume. That would make him an interesting depth pilot for a team looking for a fourth or fifth outfielder.