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For starters, this is not a white flag trade. Yes, dealing your established closer at the deadline is a trade sellers make, not buyers. And though the Pirates are still in the mix for the NL Wild Card, perhaps they should be sellers, but by dealing their relief ace for a talented left-handed reliever with years of team control, they may not have substantially hurt their chances for this year while making an improvement for the next half-decade.
Rivero has been pretty good over his two seasons with the Nationals–his 3.63 DRA matches up well with his 3.67 ERA, and he fans nearly a batter per inning with his high-90s heat. He’s been more effective against right-handers thus far, and could well be a solid seventh-inning setup option as soon as next season. While Melancon is the reliable, effective, All-Star closer that every team covets, the expense of carrying him post free-agency may have been just too rich for the middle-market Pirates. By adding the inexepensive duo of Rivero and Hearn, it’s possible that the team is setting itself up for some future success, even though 2016 might be a little more challenging now that their ninth-inning man is gone. —Bryan Grosnick
Before 2015, Hearn was drafted three different times, but during his time at Oklahoma Baptist — his third school — he took significant steps forward, and the Nationals gave him $275,000 to procure his services last June.
Fantasy owners have stashed Watson for the past three years without any reward. The time has now come. The lefty now steps into the closer’s role in Pittsburgh and should be owned in all standard leagues. He has compiled a 2.66 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP — so he should help with rate categories — but it should be noted that his 22.3 percent strikeout rate is pedestrian for a reliever and his .226 BABIP leaves some cause for concern. Still, Watson is now closing for one of the better teams in the National League. He should be owned in fantasy leagues. —J.P. Breen.
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Acquired RHP Mark Melancon and cash considerations from the Pirates for LHP Felipe Rivero and LHP Taylor Hearn. [7/30]
In each trade that he was involved in prior to this one, Melancon wasn’t the “best” player in the deal. He was traded to the Astros with Jimmy Paredes for Lance Berkman, to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie (and Kyle Weiland), and dealt with a pile of other dudes to the Pirates for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt. Today, that changes, as the talented reliever finally gets to headline his own deal. The Nationals’ new closer—I think … sorry Jon Papelbon—has been a steady force in relief for the better part of the last six seasons, ticking every peripheral box by getting punchouts (8.2 strikeouts per nine), limiting walks and homers (2.1 and 0.5 per nine, respectively), and even inducing an above-average number of groundballs (57 percent over his career) as a cherry on top.
The Nationals are probably getting a significant upgrade from Rivero to Melancon in the team’s current bullpen for the rest of the season. After all, the Nats already had two lefties in their bullpen (Sammy Solis and Oliver Perez) without Rivero. Melancon isn’t liable to melt down very often—he’s only earned 37 meltdowns to 180 shutdowns over the course of his career, and he’ll help solidify a Nationals bullpen that isn’t any great shakes.
At the same time, this is certainly a win-now move, as Rivero will provide about four more years of team control compared to Melancon’s two months or so of pitching before hitting free agency at the end of this year. With the position that the Nats are in (atop their division, looking to finally break through with a big playoff run), that’s probably a wise course of action. The Nationals may need every possible advantage to outclass the Cubs/Giants/whomever during the postseason. And while Melancon doesn’t have the wipeout stuff or the pedigree of an Aroldis Chapman or an Andrew Miller, he is a steady, underrated closer with both consistency and quality. In truth, that makes him a lot like the team’s previous closer, just with (I assume) less clubhouse turmoil. —Bryan Grosnick
Melancon will move from the closer’s role in Pittsburgh to the closer’s role in Washington D.C. He’ll avoid moving to a hitter-friendly ballpark, too, so his fantasy value should remain exactly the same as it was prior to the trade. Fun fact: Since the beginning of 2013, Mark Melancon has the lowest ERA (1.80) in all of baseball (min. 250 IP), even lower than Clayton Kershaw. The 31-year-old remains a top-5 or top-10 fantasy closer in Major League Baseball.
Papelbon owns a 4.41 ERA this year and had a very loose hold on the ninth inning for the Nationals. His command has faltered. His 9.1 percent walk rate is higher than it’s been since 2010 with the Red Sox. His 1.47 WHIP is higher than it’s been since his rookie season back in 2005. The right-hander continues to miss bats and hasn’t seen his velocity decline a meaningful amount, so it’s premature to assert that he’s “done” as a major-league reliever. His fantasy value has tumbled immensely, though.
Ah, what could have been! The right-hander has a half-dozen saves and is striking out 39.5 percent, but he now has no legitimate path to the ninth inning in Washington. Although he’s perhaps a sneaky source of strikeouts in the deepest of formats, he’s not relevant in the vast majority of leagues. —J.P. Breen
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