Matt Mervis struggled at the plate during his initial call-up, batting .167 with a 47 wRC+ and three homers in 99 plate appearances. While the underlying batted-ball data signaled an imminent breakout, the Cubs didn’t feel they had time to wait on the first baseman’s production to catch up. Part of that was about getting him back to Iowa to rebuild his confidence and tighten up his approach, something he appears to have done.
In 80 PAs since being sent down, Mervis is batting .308 with a .976 OPS and three homers, plus he’s walking at a 15% clip while striking out 20% of the time. He also has four doubles and a triple from hitting the ball hard all over the field. In that same span, Cubs first basemen have combined to hit .217 with one home run, a wRC+ of 80, and -0.3 fWAR.
Much of that comes from Jared Young, who has cooled tremendously after a hot start and is now batting .176 with a 74 wRC+ and a .645 OPS. While I abhor the idea of playing musical chairs, especially when said chairs might be arranged on the deck of the Titanic, the upside with Young may not be great enough to merit an extended trial.
As the Cubs continue to search for left-handed power and someone to hold down first base for at least the remainder of the season, it only makes sense to bring Mervis back and let him prove himself one way or the other. Either he pulls an Anthony Rizzo and makes good on his second chance in a big way or he’s viewed as a Four-A player who mashes in the minors and can’t put it together in the bigs.
I don’t want to make it seem as though the next two month or so will offer a definitive assessment of Mervis’s future, just that the Cubs need to determine whether and how to address first base moving forward. It’s become obvious at this point that Trey Mancini is not the solution and it’s unlikely the front office will pursue an extension for Cody Bellinger that could see him take first again once Pete Crow-Armstrong comes up.
Though it’s probably too late for Mervis to lift the Cubs back into the division race even if he hits like he has in the minors over the last year and a half, the time to promote him is now. The long-term driver is that he can accumulate around 250 plate appearances through September, which is enough of a sample to get a better idea of what he can do.
The more immediate reason for bringing Mervis back now is that the Cubs are heading into a soft spot in the schedule the sees them facing the Nationals, Cardinals, and White Sox for 13 games. MacKenzie Gore, who is starting Monday’s game for the Nats, is allowing a .346 average and .965 OPS to left-handed batters. Tuesday starter Trevor Williams is allowing lefty batters to hit .296 with an .830 OPS, so it’d be a great way to help jump-start his second stint.
Setting aside the conversation about whether the Cubs need to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, they absolutely need to do what they can to set themselves up for the future. Whether that’s an increasingly unlikely postseason push or planning for offseason acquisitions, Mervis is going to play a huge role in helping the front office set its direction.