The Phillies have claimed outfielder Oscar Mercado off waivers from the Guardians, per a team announcement. They opened a spot on the 40-man roster by recalling lefty Damon Jones from Triple-A Lehigh Valley and placing him on the Major League 60-day injured list due to a shoulder impingement.
Mercado, 27, will be the Phillies’ latest attempt to patch their longstanding hole in center field. He was a Rookie of the Year candidate with Cleveland back in 2019 and looked like he might become a foundational piece in the outfield, hitting .269/.318/.443 with 15 home runs, 25 doubles, three triples, 15 steals and strong defensive ratings over the course of his 115-game debut. The notion of Mercado hitting waivers at any point in the near future following that season would’ve seemed outlandish, but in two and a half seasons since that showing, virtually every element of his game has trended in the wrong direction.
During the shortened 2020 season, Mercado fell into a disastrous slump at the plate and was never able to pull himself out of it, finishing the season with 93 plate appearances and a .128/.174/.174 batting line. His strikeout rate nearly doubled from that strong rookie showing, as did his rate of infield pop-ups. The 2021 season was a step back in the right direction, but Mercado was still a well below-average hitter. That’s again been the case so far in 2022, and his overall batting line dating back to Opening Day 2020 checks in at just .198/.254/.331. He’s still posted above-average marks in both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average over that time, but the abrupt disappearance of his offense was too much for the Guardians to overlook and led to a DFA last week.
The Phillies entered the 2021-22 offseason with a glaring hole in center field but instead doubled down on their longstanding defensive woes by signing corner sluggers/designated hitters Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. The primary solution in center wound up being a low-cost reunion with Odubel Herrera, whom they signed with visions of a platoon alongside Matt Vierling. (The Phils also thinned out their center field depth by trading Adam Haseley to the ChiSox prior to the season.)
While the team’s defensive struggles certainly aren’t the only reason (and arguably not even the main one) for this year’s generally disappointing season, there’s little denying that the club’s woeful defense has again been a substantial detriment. The Phillies, who neglected shortstop and center field upgrades in favor of the aforementioned duo of lumbering sluggers, are tied with the rebuilding Nationals for the worst Defensive Runs Saved mark in the Majors (-30). They’re also 29th in Outs Above Average (-27).
Bringing Mercado into the fold should help by giving them at least one solid defensive player to install into the lineup, but his feeble production at the plate is a questionable fit with what has been a surprisingly middle-of-the pack offense. The Phils are batting .247/.316/.413 as a collective unit — about three percent better than league average after adjusting for park and league (103 wRC+). That production, however, includes Bryce Harper’s absolute powerhouse .318/.385/.599 batting line, and Harper will be absent for the foreseeable future after sustaining a fractured thumb over the weekend.
If Mercado is indeed able to turn things around following a change of scenery, he could be a multi-year option in the Philadelphia outfield. He’s yet to reach arbitration eligibility and still has three seasons of club control remaining beyond the current campaign.