Washington Nationals: Analyzing the Mark Melancon Trade
By Grant Thomas
We take a closer look at yesterday’s trade that make Mark Melancon the new closer of the Washington Nationals.
The Washington Nationals ended their closer search with Mark Melancon, and give up very little future value in return. The Pirates get a capable setup man in Rivero and a potential back-end starter in Taylor Hearn. In the end, the Washington Nationals come away from this deal winners.
The Washington Nationals were hesitant to part with one or more of its top four prospects (Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Victor Robles, and Trea Turner) in exchange for Aroldis Chapman — now with the Cubs. That was a wise decision; each of those players will give hundreds of more future innings than Chapman would give as a rental for the rest of this season.
They were patient and waited for a better deal, and were rewarded. Instead of giving up any top-tier prospects, the Washington Nationals parted with talented but struggling reliever Felipe Rivero, and 21-year-old lefty Taylor Hearn. In return, elite closer Mark Melancon strengthens the bullpen and pushes the struggling Jonathan Papelbon back into a lower-stakes role.
Rivero was a staple in the Nats’ bullpen last season (48.1 IP, 2.79 ERA, .95 WHIP) but has slowed down considerably this year. Papelbon, the Nationals’ former closer, will sacrifice his role for Melancon and likely slot into Rivero’s seventh/eighth-inning spot. (How a wildcard personality such as Papelbon reacts to this, and whether it will lengthen his current struggles, remains to be seen).
Melancon, a top five closer in the game, has the best ERA in baseball in the past four years combined. His 81 saves since the beginning of last season are also tops in the entire league. Why was he traded?
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The Pittsburg Pirates are 9.5 games back in the NL Central; while a Wild Card spot is within reach, Melancon will be a free agent this offseason and was on the trade block for quite awhile.
A talent such as Melancon was assumed to command a nice package of prospects. However, the Pirates’ current situation called for a major-league ready reliever to slot into their bullpen, and Rivero fits that bill.
They aren’t left that thin; they can close with Tony Watson and Neftali Feliz, and Rivero and Hearn can both throw close to 100 from the left side.
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Hearn has a ceiling of a back-end starter or long relief at best despite his great arm. At Class A Hagerstown this year, he’s been working out of the bullpen as a long reliever. He throws consistently in the upper 90’s with decent control and use of his offspeed pitches. His recent appearances have looked good, which is likely why he is involved in this deal. The Pirates actually drafted Hearn in 2012, which is another factor.
This return is modest at best, and there must be something in Rivero that the Pirates are very excited about. In the end, the Washington Nationals get their closer and they are now much more confident in their bullpen for the stretch run.
As a result of this trade, Melancon will be ineligible for a qualifying offer and will be free to negotiate without any chance of draft compensation back to Washington if he signs elsewhere. Even so, considering the price and his age, it’s not as important that he is re-signed.