By: Noah Wright
Justin Berl/Getty Images
It seems like The Pirates dealt Mark Melancon this season, even though it was 2 seasons ago. When they decided to deal Melancon off to The Nationals, I thought it was a bad move. After all, they did trade one of the top closers in the game for some mid-level prospect, and a left hander that had an ERA over 4.50. But looking back on it, I was extremely wrong that this was a bad trade, and I think that this is one of the best trades The Pirates have made in the last 3-5 years. With that, let's re-examine the trade that sent Mark Melancon to The Nationals, and Felipe Rivero to The Pirates.
It was July 30th, a day before the trade deadline, and The Pirates could’ve been at best a 2nd Wild Card team. They were 9.5 out of the division, but still 3 out of a WC spot. That was enough for the team to deal right handed closer Mark Melancon to The Washington Nationals. At the time, Melancon was a top closer in The Majors, but on the last year of his contract. He well deserved the title of top 3 closer, for he had a 1.51 ERA, 2.67 FIP, and .960 WHIP. It was his 3rd out his his last 4 seasons with an ERA under 2. Along with that, he was limiting walks to a 1.9 BB/9 rate, striking out batters at a healthy 8.2 K/9 rate, and batters were making hard contact 25.5% of the time, .5 more than his career low. So with an expiring contract, and not in direct contention, The Pirates decided to trade Melancon for two left handed pitchers. One being Felipe Rivero, and the other being Taylor Hearn. But why did The Nationals do this trade? Well The Nationals were had a 5 game division lead on The Marlins, and had a struggling bullpen. Then closer Jonathan Papelbon had been struggling, along with Felipe Rivero and Oliver Perez. They needed a shutdown closer they could rely on with playoff experience.
For their top rated closer, The Pirates received Felipe Rivero (now Felipe Vazquez), a struggling young lefty who had a plus fastball, and single-A prospect Taylor Hearn. Let’s take a look at Rivero first. The 24 year old was in his sophomore year of the majors. He had previously performed as a solid left hander out of the pen for The Nats in 2015, having an ERA of 2.79, FIP of 2.64, and WHIP of .952. Plus he had kept walks at a rate of 2.0 per 9, and home runs to just .4 per 9. 2016, well, wasn’t going so smoothly for him. In 49 and two thirds innings for The Nats, Rivero had a 4.53 ERA, 1.168 WHIP, but still kept his FIP to 3.27. Hearn, a then 21 year old, was drafted by The Nationals a year prior. He had spent all of his time in single-A, and had produced a 3.18 ERA, while showing a good fastball, and solid control.
So how does this trade look now in 2018? Well for starters, it’s clear that The Pirates were the victors of this trade. Melancon did produce well for his time with The Nationals, giving them a 1.82 ERA, 2.07 FIP, and kept walks to a .9 rate. But he didn’t help them go deep into the playoffs. He only gave The Nationals 34 innings of baseball, while Felipe Vazquez has developed into an all-star closer. It only makes the trade worse on The Nationals end knowing that The Pirates got Keone Kela for Hearn. Kela had done very well in his first 15 and a third innings in Pittsburgh, and he’s on a team friendly deal through the 2020 season. On the other hand, The Pirates extended Vazquez through 2023 season on, like Kela, a team friendly contract.