The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox have reportedly agreed to a deal that will send relief pitcher Mark Melancon to the Red Sox in exchange for shortstop Jed Lowrie and starting pitching prospect Kyle Weiland. This is another move where we see a team turn a reliever with recent success into young talent with upside.
The Red Sox were in the hunt for a reliever after Jonathan Papelbon signed with the Phillies and may have felt the asking price for Ryan Madson was too high as was the asking price in trade for Oakland closer Andrew Bailey. The Red Sox turned to Melancon who has a 92-94 mph fastball with good sink and also throws a solid curve and cutter.
Melancon gets a lot of groundballs. His career GB% is 55.5% in 112 innings and it has helped keep his HR/9 rate at a low 0.56 for his career. Melancon can struggle with control and when his fastball is fails to sink it, well, fails. Moving from the NL Central to the AL East is going to be a tough test for him.
Small sample size warning, but Melancon has a 135 ERA+ in 91.2 innings with the Astros and a 96 ERA+ in 20.1 innings with the Yankees in his career. There is not enough evidence to prove this will hold true but it does make one pay attention. At the end of the day the Red Sox get a much needed solid bullpen arm that is under control for five more years even if they had to overpay a bit. His ability to keep the ball on the ground and get a decent amount of strikeouts while being cost-controlled is very appealing.
The Astros get a starting shortstop in Lowrie, who wears the rare two-ear flap batting helmet, with three years of arbitration and coming off a year where he hit .252/.303/.382 with a 79 wRC+. But, he did hit .287/.381/.526 in 197 plate appearances in 2010 and .306/.354/.450 in his first 178 PAs through the end of May 2011. Lowrie is not the best defender at short but if his bat can come close to what he did between 2010 and the end of May 2011 then the Astros will gladly take a hit on defense.
Weiland has five years of control left and owns a fastball that sits 91-95 and will keep it around the zone but lacks command and misses with all of his pitches up in the zone. His change-up must become more than a batting practice pitch if he wants to be more than a right-handed specialist out of the pen but he has the potential to be a back end innings-eating starter with some added polish. A move out of the AL East looked like a good thing but then you realize he will be in the AL West in 2013. Not quite as scary, but much scarier than the NL Central.
The Astros turned a reliever into two young players with 3+ years of control remaining and one plays an up-the-middle position. This is a perfect trade for the Astros as they try and build a team from the ground up with hopes of competing in 2-3 years.