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December 15, 2011

The BP First Take

Thursday, December 15

by Daniel Rathman

Devout “Seinfeld” fans undoubtedly remember the scene when Jerry tells George, “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.” New Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow heeded that advice on Wednesday when he agreed to trade reliever Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland.

The Astros were baseball’s worst team last season, after four years under previous GM Ed Wade, who was fired in November after owner Jim Crane took over the franchise.  Wade’s most glaring flaw was an odd propensity for overvaluing relievers, often at the expense of prospects or other parts of his major-league roster. Not surprisingly, Luhnow was determined to immediately change course.

Melancon pitched 71 1/3 innings for Houston last season—most of them as the team’s closer—and logged a solid 3.22 FIP. He was effective in the role but was nonetheless worth just 0.3 WARP. To Wade, Melancon would have seemed a valuable commodity; to Luhnow, he was a fungible one.

For a franchise rebuilding from scratch, as the Astros are, Melancon is precisely the type of player who should be used as a trade chip. By the time Houston is ready to contend, the 26-year-old Melancon will either flame out or become an unwieldy burden on the team’s payroll. Lowrie, on the other hand, could be the team’s long-term shortstop, and Weiland may blossom into either a back-end starter or a useful middle reliever.

Wednesday’s trade may ultimately work out for the Red Sox, who are betting that Melancon’s plus stuff will play as well in the AL East as it did in the NL Central. For the Astros, though, it represents a two-fold step in the right direction, improving their roster and revising their philosophy.

When the Astros first began their search for Wade’s successor, fans pined for an established, elite GM like the Rays’ Andrew Friedman. Luhnow, who was the Cardinals’ vice president of amateur scouting and player development from 2003-2011, was a much lower-profile candidate, but equally qualified for the job. His first significant deal showed a commitment to the rebuilding process that Wade—perhaps due to the influence of previous owner Drayton McLane—could never make.

 As Elaine quipped in the aforementioned Seinfeld scene, “There’s no telling what can happen from this.”  

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

Related Content:  Mark Melancon,  Ed Wade

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Baseball Prospectus Ne... (12/15)
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