In response to a rash of recent struggles by closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Washington Nationals are set to acquire three-time All-Star Mark Melancon from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The move was first reported by Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman. Though no official decision has been made, Melancon will likely assume the closer’s mantle, while Papelbon should move into a setup role if he is in fact healthy. In return, the Buccos will receive lefty pitchers Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn.
Sources: #Nationals getting Melancon.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 30, 2016
pirates get rivero and hearns in melancon deal
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 30, 2016
Nationals Acquire Mark Melancon
Melancon, who earned his second consecutive All-Star nod this season, in in the midst of a stellar year. The 31-year-old righty has recorded thirty saves in thirty-three chances, and owns a 1.51 ERA and a minuscule 0.96 WHIP. He’s also striking out an impressive 8.2 batters per nine innings. Melancon is in the final year of his contract, and the Pirates likely would have lost him in free agency.
Last season, Melancon led the majors with fifty-one saves. Before his time with Pittsburgh, the seven-year veteran spent time with the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Houston Astros. While he found varying levels of success with his former clubs, he truly blossomed when he was traded to the Pirates by the Red Sox before the 2013 season in exchange for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt. Since then, he has recorded 130 saves, has never ended a season with an ERA above 0.96, and has finished with a sub-2.00 ERA three times.
The Nats currently sit in first place in the NL East, a comfortable six games ahead of the second-place Miami Marlins. A strong lineup, led by Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, and a fearsome rotation headlined by Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg already made the Nationals one of the favorites in the National League. If Melancon carries over his success from Pittsburgh, Washington could be in line for a deep October run.
Rivero and Hearn
Rivero, a 25-year-old out of Venezuela, has pitched 49.2 innings for the Nationals this year, to mediocre results. The lefty owns a 4.53 ERA with 53 strikeouts, but may just be experiencing a sophomore slump. Last season, his first in the majors, he put up a 2.79 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP, good for a 1.2 WAR. He also struck out forty-three opponents across 48.1 innings. If he can return to that form, the Pirates might have something in him.
Hearn is Pittsburgh’s real prize in this transaction. Prior to the season, he was ranked as Washington’s 25th-best prospect. The lefty can reach triple digits with his fastball when he’s on, and his slider has the potential to be a true out pitch. His issue at this point is control, but the 21-year old can be devastating when he hits his locations. Standing at 6’5” and 210 pounds, Hearn has drawn comparisons to Randy Johnson, at least in terms of his frame.
Before the trade, he was in the middle of a strong minor league campaign. He’s pitched to the tune of a 2.79 ERA in twenty-nine innings of work. He’s walked thirteen batters and has sat down thirty-nine on strikes, but is also giving up almost a hit per nine innings. However, this is just his second full season of professional ball. He was a fifth round pick by the Nationals in the 2015 June Amateur Draft. If he keeps developing, he’ll one day be a strong contributor at the Major League level.