The Cardinals announced that they have signed five players to minor league deals: outfielder Óscar Mercado, infielders Taylor Motter and Juniel Querecuto, left-hander Kenny Hernandez and right-hander Logan Sawyer.
Mercado, 28 next month, is the most notable of the bunch. This signing returns him to the organization where he began his professional career, as the Cardinals drafted him in the second round back in 2013. He was traded to Cleveland in 2018 and then seemed to have an incredible breakout season in 2019. He got into 115 games that year, hitting 15 home runs and producing a batting line of .269/.318/.443. Because that was the “juiced ball” season, that production was actually just barely below league average according to his 98 wRC+. However, he also stole 15 bases and provided quality center field defense, allowing him to produce 2.2 fWAR on the year.
Since he was only 24 at the time, it seemed fair to think that even better things would be ahead for Mercado and he could be a foundational piece in Cleveland. Unfortunately, hit bat has wilted in the subsequent seasons. Since the end of 2019, Mercado has hit just .200/.258/.330 for a wRC+ of 62. After burning his option years, the Guardians designated him for assignment in 2022. He was claimed by the Phillies but then designated again after just a single game. The Guardians then claimed him and brought him back, but designated him a second time shortly thereafter.
After finally clearing waivers, Mercado ended up getting into 49 Triple-A games and fared much better, hitting .281/.363/.449. That amounted to a wRC+ of 117, indicating he was 17% above league average. He also stole nine bases in that short amount of time, indicating that the baserunning part of his game is still present, though he was also caught four times.
As Mercado showed in 2019, even with offense around league average, he can be a valuable player due to contributions from his glove and his wheels. If the Cardinals can coax that out of him, they can control him cheaply for years to come since Mercado has yet to reach arbitration eligibility. He’ll have to earn his way onto the roster first, of course, but the Cards’ outfield looks much less settled than it did a year ago. Harrison Bader was traded to the Yankees, Tyler O’Neill was injured for much of 2022 and Dylan Carlson’s bat took a step back relative to the year before. That means the door’s open for Mercado to enter the club’s plans on the grass, next to O’Neill, Carlson and Lars Nootbaar.
As for the rest of the signings, Motter is the only one with more than four games of MLB experience. The journeyman infielder was in the big leagues from 2016 to 2018 and then the past two seasons, with a trip to the KBO in between. In terms of his time in MLB, he’s gotten into 161 games split between the Rays, Mariners, Twins, Rockies, Red Sox and Reds. He hasn’t hit much in that stretch but has enough versatility to have played every defensive position except for catcher and center field.