Chicago Cubs slugger Matt Mervis may be on his last chance with the major league team

The slugging lefty first baseman has demolished the minors yet again, but he'll have to show he belongs in the big leagues this time around to secure a future in Chicago.
Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox
Chicago Cubs v Chicago White Sox / John E. Moore III/GettyImages

Matt Mervis is finally returning to the Windy City. After mashing through the minors to start the season, the Chicago Cubs are rightfully giving the lefty first baseman another chance to prove himself beyond his cup of coffee with the big league team last year. They even designated Garrett Cooper for assignment to clear some runway for him to get real, meaningful playing time.

Alas, this may also be Mash's last real shot with the big league team, albeit not through much fault of his own.

During the offseason, the Cubs acquired heralded first base prospect Michael Busch from the Dodgers who has thus far blossomed in his new home and is seen as a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year. On top of that, it seemed as if the organization saw Mervis as expendable when they brought in Cooper and Dom Smith for depth during Spring Training. The situation has certainly changed since he first had fans dreaming of the future.

Before 2022, Mervis wasn’t on anybody’s radar as a potential star in the making. His ascension was meteoric, beginning with a .309/.379/.606 slash line between all levels of the minors that year. That same torrid pace kept up into 2023 and earned him his first taste of the majors after plenty of anticipation. Unfortunately, it hardly went as hoped - .167/.242/.289/46 wRC+ - and it didn’t take long for him to return to Iowa.

There are some fair concerns about the validity of his performance. His Statcast barrel rate and hard-hit percentages were both well above average and he didn't exactly get everyday playing time under David Ross. Still, the 32.3% strikeout rate was untenable and his stint showed some holes in his game. In the time since then, however, he's kept hitting with a .288/.402/.606 slash line and 151 wRC+ to start the year in Triple-A, and now he's actually hitting lefties to the tune of a .300/.360/.650 line.

With the big league Cubs increasingly looking like a playoff contender, they'll want every spot making the most of what the organization has to offer. Given Craig Counsell's lineup on Tuesday and the makeup of the roster, designated hitter is his best chance at finding at-bats, especially when a righty is on the mound. This still has problems given that the Cubs have a ton of prospects fast approaching, including the red-hot Matt Shaw who could soon take over at third and force Christopher Morel back to DH more regularly.

A Matt Mervis trade still makes sense for the Chicago Cubs

On top of everything, Mervis still seems like an ideal trade piece for the Cubs. He's not likely to get starts at first anytime soon barring an injury or a need to rest Busch. Perhaps the DFA of Cooper shows growing confidence to let him be a backup and bench bat going forward, but there's a marketable potential in Mervis, with his 30-homer upside, that could make him enticing to other teams looking for a change of scenery candidate a la Busch.

With a strong farm system and serviceable depth behind him and an unclear long-term spot, it's not like it would hurt the Cubs to send him off for another bullpen arm during the year, even if it stung to see him find success in another uniform. How Mervis hits could determine his fate, though a decision won't have to be made for a while. If he takes to the majors well this time, there's no harm in keeping him around and working him in where he has the best chance to succeed. Then, if things become too crowded later in the season, that big league success could translate to more value at the deadline.

If he struggles again and is sent back down to the minors, however, it leaves his spot even further in question as the farm continues to rise around him. Whatever the case, we can hope that Mervis will bring value and some fireworks with what could be a pivotal return to Chicago.