The Indians announced this morning that they’ve optioned struggling center fielder Oscar Mercado to their alternate training site. A corresponding move has yet to be announced but will come before tomorrow’s game.
Mercado becomes the third notable Indians player to be sent down in the past week, although his circumstances are different. Unlike demoted right-handers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac, who were sent down after angering teammates and club officials by breaking Covid-19 protocols, Mercado’s trip to the alternate site looks to be purely driven by his on-field struggles. The 25-year-old finished eighth in American League Rookie of the Year voting last season but has gotten out to a woeful .111/.167/.111 start through 48 plate appearances in 2020.
Entering the season, Mercado appeared to be the lone lock amid an otherwise jumbled outfield picture. Cleveland had Delino DeShields Jr., Jordan Luplow, Tyler Naquin, Jake Bauers, Bradley Zimmer, Greg Allen, Domingo Santana and Franmil Reyes all vying for time in the corners (and at DH), but Mercado’s .269/.318/.443 debut and his quality glovework made him the clear favorite for everyday work in center.
With Mercado optioned out of the picture for now, it’ll likely be DeShields shouldering the workload in center while manager Terry Francona mixes and matches in the corner slots. None of Cleveland’s outfielders have been productive in 2020 (with the exception of DeShields, though he’s tallied just 23 plate appearances to date), so Francona will likely play matchups and hope for the emergence of a hot hand or two on which he can rely more consistently. The club could, of course, also pursue an upgrade via the trade market.
It should be noted that while Mercado’s demotion opens a spot on the active roster, that cannot be used to recall either Clevinger or Plesac. Optional assignment rules dictate that a player must spend 10 days down unless he is replacing a player who is being placed on the IL. That’s not the case here, so the club will turn elsewhere in whatever move is announced following today’s off day.