The St. Louis Cardinals' promotion of outfielder Oscar Mercado was the best decision they could have made.
The outfield of the St. Louis Cardinals considered a position of strength and depth at the beginning of the season, hasn't lived up to expectations in production. With the injuries of Tyler O'Neill and now Dylan Carlson, the Cardinals have had to dip into the minor leagues to find an outfield replacement. The player they promoted, Oscar Mercado (first reported by our own Josh Jacobs and FanSided's Robert Murray), has elicited grumbles among fans but is a better option than many of them might realize.
Mercado was a second-round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2013. They traded him to the Cleveland Indians in 2018, and he had a solid rookie season in 2019, hitting .269 with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases. It was all downhill from there, as he hit .200 over the next three seasons with Cleveland and the Philadelphia Phillies. He reunited with the Cardinals organization after signing as a free agent in 2022.
While Mercado has yet to rediscover the stroke he had in 2019, the Cardinals could still have some value here. Mercado is a decent fielder, and having him patrol center field on a regular basis will allow Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbaar to flank him in left and right field, respectively. While Nootbaar could likely play a serviceable center field, an outfield comprising two of Donovan, Alec Burleson, and Juan Yepez along with Nootbaar would be a defensive liability.
Mercado is also the best defensive outfielder the Cardinals could realistically promote. Jordan Walker and Moises Gomez, both of whom are on the 40-man roster, are not nearly as apt in the field as Mercado is, and the Cardinals’ pitch-to-contact approach means they rely on defense more than most other teams.
Offensively, Mercado has hit .278 in Memphis this season, albeit with only two home runs. While there has only been one season where Mercado showed himself to be up to snuff against major league pitching, he likely wouldn’t be too much of a downgrade from Carlson at the plate, who was hitting only .230 on the season before his injury.
To go back to Walker and Gomez, this time on the offensive side, both of them have also had their issues at the plate in Memphis: Walker is hitting only .213 with little power and is still trying to hit the ball in the air more often, and Gomez is hitting .259 with six home runs, which is below his usual mark, and his defensive shortcomings likely won’t make the offense he does supply worth it.
Even though Mercado doesn’t offer Walker’s and Gomez’s upside, he is the best option for the Cardinals right now, not just on his own merits, but for the positioning and production of the outfield as a whole. Even though he likely won’t be a juggernaut offensively, the Cardinals have made the right move here. In a season full of questionable decisions, that’s a breath of fresh air.