When the non-waiver trade deadline passed on July 31, 2018, Cleveland Indians President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti announced on a conference call that the team had acquired Leonys Martin from the Detroit Tigers for Willi Castro and Kyle Dowdy.
The trade had been reported earlier in the day, and fans waited for a second trade up until the 4:00 p.m. deadline.
Around 4:25, on that same call, Antonetti announced there was indeed a second trade.
#Indians also made a trade for OF Oscar Mercado from the St. Louis Cardinals for a package including Conner Capel.— Alex Hooper (@lexhooper) July 31, 2018
If one looks at the replies to that tweet, Cardinals fans were quite shocked and upset by the move. Mercado had been a top prospect in the St. Louis system since being selected in the 2nd round of the 2013 amateur draft, and was coming off of a season in which he jumped from zero home runs at High-A Palm Beach to 13 at Double-A Springfield.
Along with the jump in big flies came a move to the outfield. Playing around 75% of his High-A innings at shortstop, all 983 1/3 frames in Double-A came in the outfield.
St. Louis had dealt outfielder Tommy Pham to the Tampa Bay Rays earlier in the day. They seemingly had a surplus of young outfielders with the emergence of Harrison Bader, as well as Tyler O’Neill, Adolis Garcia and Yairo Munoz fighting for innings at the Triple-A and Major League levels. The Cardinals had dealt outfielder/first baseman Luke Voit to the Yankees four days prior.
Instead of letting Mercado toil in obscurity at Triple-A Memphis, St. Louis dealt from an area of strength, acquiring Capel, in his 21-year-old season at High-A Lynchburg, and 18-year-old Jhon Torres, in his second year of rookie ball.
Why hold onto a blocked — though promising — outfield prospect when you can turn him into two — though perhaps less promising — outfield prospects at lower levels?
Capel had not been replicating the .795 OPS breakout season he had with Low-A Lake County in 2017 upon being traded. Torres was more or less mirroring his 17-year-old debut, looking like a massive power threat in the future, with more of the less exciting two true outcomes.
(Since the trade, Capel has continued to tail off with increased competition. Torres absolutely raked with the Cardinals rookie affiliate — four homers, six doubles and 14 RBI in 17 games and 75 plate appearances. He remains in extended spring, awaiting short season assignment.)
At the time, the Indians were bereft of outfielders, hence the trade for Martin. At the time, their highest-ranked outfield prospects were Quentin Holmes and Will Benson, both light-years away, as well as Capel.
Bradley Zimmer had been largely disappointing before being optioned back to Columbus in early June, and was placed on the 7-day injured list with a shoulder injury on June 14. Lonnie Chisenhall hit the 10-day on July 3, and was transferred to the 60-day on July 20. The Melky Cabrera World Tour began its second leg a day later.
Just 286 days later, the Indians are bereft of outfielders, and Bradley Zimmer is still on the injured list with the same shoulder injury. This time, they are without Chisenhall or Michael Brantley.
But now they have Oscar Mercado, at least.