Contrary to popular fan belief, the time is right to deal Pittsburgh Pirates closer Mark Melancon
If the offseason has shown us anything so far, it’s that closers are a hot commodity on the market, which will play right into the Pittsburgh Pirates’ hands. The San Diego Padres traded Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox for highly rated prospects Manuel Margot and Javier Guerra along with Carlos Asuaje and Logan Allen. In the days that followed, the Detroit Tigers picked up Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for infielder Javier Betancourt and a player to be named later. The main pieces going back to the clubs that traded their closers all have the potential to be very good players at the MLB level.
With the Cincinnati Reds shopping Aroldis Chapman and the Washington Nationals doing the same with Drew Storen and Jonathan Papelbon there are some top tier closers on the market. Because these two are on the market and two others have already been moved, it’s time the Pittsburgh Pirates move Mark Melancon before any others get traded.
In recent years, there has been a change in the way that some of the younger GMs approach closers. It seems now that many teams believe that it is not a good use of resources to put a lot of money towards an expensive reliever who only pitches in games where their team has a three-run lead or less in the ninth and sometimes eighth inning. Neil Huntington’s approach fits into this mold since the deal that brought Melancon to Pittsburgh involved sending an increasingly more expensive Joel Hanrahan to Boston.
Another reason the Pirates should consider moving Melancon now is that they have Tony Watson who can shift into the closer’s role immediately. He has shown the ability to handle late innings in the past. The Pirates could also consider pairing him with a dominant righty and approach saves as a platoon situation, similar to what the Yankees occasionally did with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances last season.
Let’s take a look at the Kimbrel trade since he and Melancon are close in age and ability. Kimbrel will be 27 when the season starts and his contract will pay him $11 million in 2016, $13 million in 2017 and a team option for $13 million for the 2018 (with a $1 million buyout). Boston took on the whole contract in the trade and is on the hook for at least the $24 million guaranteed over the next two years. In exchange, Boston sent two top 100 prospects and two others to San Diego.
Melancon on the other hand will be 31 years old when the season kicks off. He will be entering his third year of arbitration and earned $5.4 million last season. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Melancon will get a raise to $10 million next season and rightfully so. After a somewhat rocky start to the season, Melancon went on to set the franchise record for saves in a season with 51 and continued to limit the number of free passes he issued while keeping his ERA right around 2.00.
While Chapman is the premier closer on the market, Melancon may is a good option for teams that do not want to give up as much as it will take to bring back the Cuban flamethrower. This is not to suggest Melancon would not bring back a good return for the Pirates; they just need to find a team that needs a closer and has the pieces the Pirates need.
In reality, it’s not this cut and dry but to find out what teams could potentially match up as trade partners with the Pirates I broke them down into three groups. For the sake of brevity I won’t explain why each team is or isn’t a good trade partner; I very generally summarized what each group represents. This is not to say that any of the 25 teams in the first two groups will not trade for Melancon, I just don’t believe they are best trade partners based on their closer situation.
1) 16 Teams that either already traded for a closer or have a good reliever on the roster and are most likely not in the market for Melancon: NYY, BOS, BAL, KC, CLE, MIN, DET, LAA, SEA, TEX, MIA, NYM, STL, CHC, SF, LA
2) 11 Teams that either are shopping their closer, traded their closer or are probably going to be a bad team in 2016 and have no use for Melancon: TB, CHW, OAK, WSH, ATL, PHI, CIN, MIL, COL, SD, ARZ
3) 2 teams that are very good trading partners for the Pirates based on their need to upgrade at the closer position and have potential pieces to trade in the minors
Toronto Blue Jays
Toronto is building a juggernaut of an offense and could look to bolster the back end of their bullpen. They are clearly in a ‘win now’ mode and Melancon would allow them to bump Roberto Osuna into the eighth inning to make a tough pairing in late in the game.
Like the Blue Jays, the Astros are ready to win now. They have gone about assembling a winning roster a little differently than Toronto and don’t spend as much as the Blue Jays, so they could be in the market for a dominant closer at a reasonable price.
If the Pirates do indeed move Melancon, they should be looking for starting pitching or a corner infielder in return as those are the biggest holes on the team at the moment. With the Pirates shopping Neil Walker, Josh Harrison could be shifted to second base if a move is made. Pedro Alvarez has been let go and the only internal options for first base are Michael Morse and newcomer Jake Goebbert while Josh Bell gets more experience in Indianapolis. The rotation also needs to be strengthened and with J.A. Happ signing with the Blue Jays, they have lost one potential pitcher who was within their price range.
Both Houston and Toronto have players that could fill some of the Pirates’ needs in 2016 and beyond, the question is whether either of them would be willing to part with their young talent. That being said, the centerpiece of any deal would need to be someone that can help the Pirates sooner rather than later.
Toronto has a lot of young arms in their system, but the problem is that they are in the lower levels of the minor leagues and probably won’t reach the Majors until 2017 or 2018. Jonathan Harris and Sean Reid-Foley rank highly in their system, but both are a few years away. The Blue Jays do have some interesting corner infielders like Andy Burns or Matt Dean that could play in the Majors in 2016 or 2017. I would also be interested in the Pirates acquiring Rowdy Tellez based on his potential power and, of course, his awesome name.
I believe that of the two teams, Houston would be the better trading partner of the two. The Pirates could take a shot at fixing a pitcher who wouldn’t sign with them in 2012, Mark Appel. His ERA in 2015 was well over 4 but he struck out a decent number of hitters (110 in 131.2 innings). Plus, someone like Appel would slot right into the rotation for next season. Michael Feliz is another pitcher that could interest the Pirates due to his powerful arm.
In terms of bats, Houston has a few that are close to being ready for the Majors. A.J. Reed is a left-handed first baseman with considerable power and a discerning eye at the plate. Colin Moran is a lefty third baseman with some pop that could take over the hot corner if Harrison gets moved to second in the wake of a deal involving Walker. Both of these players could probably use a little more experience in the minors, but if the Pirates decided to be aggressive they could make an impact at some point in 2016.
Neil Huntington has shown in the past, especially with the Hanrahan trade, that he is not opposed to flipping a reliever when he believes the time is right. With the idea that closers are overvalued, now is the time to see what other teams are willing to offer. The San Diego Padres were able to get two highly regarded prospects and two others back and at the same time shed all of Kimbrel’s salary. Melancon isn’t tied to a large contract, so he may be even more appealing to teams.
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