Here’s a memo to Pittsburgh Pirates fans upset about closer Mark Melancon being traded: Relax.
The Pirates’ management is very aware of what it is doing and, under general manager Neal Huntington, they’re not wrong by making this move.
First of all, Melancon is going to be just fine. He’s heading to a Washington Nationals team that leads the NL East by five games. Those who question whether Melancon can handle being outside PNC Park because he doesn’t strike enough batters out should stop over-analyzing things and enjoy a closer who goes about his business quietly but with a steely look of determination.
Melancon is professional in every single way, and there will be no closer controversy or any ill feelings in Washington, D.C. Make no mistake about it, Melancon is the closer.
But, perhaps more importantly in Pittsburgh, the Pirates did right by Melancon and by themselves.
Melancon is a free agent after this season, and he’ll get a lot of money in the off-season from whichever team signs him. The two players the Pirates got in return for Melancon, left-handed pitchers Taylor Hearn and Felipe Rivero, will be locked up under contract for a long time. There was no way the Pirates would be able to sign Melancon this off-season.
The Pirates also have a good track record of knowing when to cut ties with closers. Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli and now Melancon served their purpose but were all dealt at about the perfect time.
And, make no mistake, Melancon being traded isn’t a punt on the season by the Pirates by any means. Though reliever Tony Watson has had more hiccups this season than fans are used to, he’s ready to take on the role of closer.
He quietly goes about his business and doesn’t panic when runners reach base. When the situation calls for it, Watson isn’t afraid of making the big pitch and pumping his fist.
With the trade, the Pirates have shown their faith in reliever Neftali Feliz’s ability to handle the eighth inning and close on an as-needed basis.
When Rivero arrives in Pittsburgh on Sunday, he’ll likely have to jump right in — look for him to pitch the seventh inning; he’ll typically come in as one of the Pirates’ middle relievers. While Rivero has a 4.53 ERA this season, he has an 0.93 ERA in his last 13 games.
Rivero is one of three left-handed pitchers who has thrown 100-miles per-hour this season. At 25 years old, he’ll be an exciting pitcher to watch, and he’ll only develop further with the Pirates.
Pitching prospect Hearn was the other piece of this trade, and he can also throw in the triple digits. (It remains unclear whether he’ll be used in a starting role or in the bullpen.) He’ll be reporting to the Single-A West Virginia Power. Hearn was originally drafted by the Pirates, so it’ll be interesting to see him in their minor league system.
Of course it’s sad to see a beloved figure like Melancon, the Shark, leave Pittsburgh. But this move can have a big impact on the Pirates — both now and in the coming years.
It’s time to focus on the fact that, while it’s impossible to judge a trade this early, this should turn out to be one that leaves both sides very happy.
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