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BOSTON RED SOX
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Acquired P-R Mark Melancon for P-R Kyle Weiland and UTL-S Jed Lowrie. [12/13]

With Jonathan Papelbon shipping down to Philadelphia and Daniel Bard stretching out as a starter, the Red Sox’ bullpen will have a much different look in 2012. Rumors will continue to swirl around Ryan Madson and Andrew Bailey, but for now, Melancon is the de facto closer.

Such an idea may give pause to the Boston faithful who recall Melancon’s virginal experience in the majors. Back in 2009-2010, Melancon threw 20 1/3 innings for the Yankees and allowed 34 baserunners to go with an earned run average near 5.00. Upon moving to Houston in the Lance Berkman trade of July 2010, Melancon’s promising low-to-mid-90s fastball and breaker combination began breeding results. All told, Melancon struck out 8.3 batters per nine innings, recording 2.5 strikeouts for every walk, and getting groundballs at a clip of over 50 percent.

A fringe benefit for the Red Sox in acquiring Melancon is acquiring his pre-arbitration salary. With Melancon making the minimum, Ben Cherington could still add another proven closer with a bloated salary or opt instead to use that money to shore up their rotation.

HOUSTON ASTROS
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Acquired P-R Kyle Weiland and UTL-S Jed Lowrie for P-R Mark Melancon. [12/13]

To state the obvious: Lowrie could become the best player in this deal. The Red Sox would likely acknowledge this. After all, Lowrie is a potential everyday shortstop in a trade with a useful (but not great) reliever and fringe starter. Even so, the Red Sox were dealing from a position of strength. Marco Scutaro is better than folks think, and between Mike Aviles and Jose Iglesias, the Red Sox have some utility infielder depth. Those players may have warts, but Lowrie does, too.

Lowrie turns 28 in April and has yet to record more than 341 plate appearances during a single major league season. Injuries, not the Red Sox, kept Lowrie down. He missed more than 115 days in both 2009 and 2010 with mononucleosis and left wrist surgery. The 2011 season looked like a step forward, but Lowrie then missed more than 60 days due to a myriad of issues with his left shoulder—he also fell on that surgically repaired wrist, causing some concerns about a re-aggravation, thus putting him close to 300 days missed over the last three years.

When healthy, Lowrie has proven to be a useful player. Unfortunately, it’s hard to evaluate just who he is. The immediate post-trade reactions suggested his impressive .287/.381/.526 effort in 2010 is overweighed. That season is included in Lowrie’s 2009-2011 slash line of .250/.316/.412, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance. Is there a reason to think Lowrie could develop into an above-average hitter who plays shortstop? Yes. Is there a reason to believe that possibility is a given? No.

The same is true of Weiland’s chances of remaining a starting pitcher. Weiland was part of the Red Sox’ September implosion, as he made five starts and failed to last even five innings in four of them. All told, Weiland allowed 22 runs in 24 1/3 innings while walking 12, fanning 13, and yielding five home runs. He should receive an opportunity with the Astros to make more than the five starts he did with the Red Sox, but murmurs about a bullpen future have persisted dating back through his college days. Marc Normandin pointed out Weiland’s struggles the second time through the order, suggesting he could benefit from a move to the bullpen. Those stats stem from a small sample size, albeit while corroborating the scouting reports that suggest the same.

Jeff Luhnow’s first trade with the Astros is more likely to provide a positive return than negative. For a team with no short-term contention hopes, it makes all the sense in the world to cash in on non-elite relievers when the upside is acquiring a worthwhile shortstop and starting pitcher.