Monday Breakdown: Assessing the Melancon Deal
It is currently 10:00 AM eastern Standard Time on trade deadline day. You, faithful reader, will not be seeing this until much later and most if not all of what I am about to say could be irrelevant by then. The Nats find themselves in a very familiar situation. Replace the Marlins with the Mets and Melancon with Papelbon and everything is almost identical to 2015. Papelbon claims to have no issue with moving to the seventh or eighth inning where Drew Storen did. The Nationals improved a weakness in the same manner but with a more talented player. The big question that remains is was it enough and should the Nationals do more?
It is my thought that they should. Trea Turner is a great start and fills the need the Nats have at the top of their order. He should be the centerfielder moving forward but the Nats need another bat in the line-up and one that preferably can slot between Murphy and Harper. Unfortunately that bat doesn't appear to be on the market. Lucroy would fit the bill but like the Indians the Nats are on his no trade list and a concession of some sort would be required to get him to move to first base or to change teams at all with Ramos at first.
My biggest thought on how the Nats should improve is the way they always improve. The starting rotation. Scherzer, Strasburg, and Roark have been solid all year. Gio has been hit and miss and Joe Ross is currently injured. If the hope is that one of Giolito, Ross, Lopez, and Fedde turn into a future Chris Sale or Chris Archer then why not package some or all of them together and trade for one of those starting pitchers. It is a trade that fixes a current and future need with both Sale and Archer having years of control left and it solidifies the back end of an already strong rotation. Imagine a short series where a team has to face Scherzer, Sale, Strasburg. That shouldn't be a comforting thought for any batter and it is certainly worth whatever the Nats would have to give up.
As far as adding a bat maybe Carlos Beltran would help, but is replacing an over the hill Werth with an over the hill Beltran really an improvement. Perhaps the Nats could add someone like Jeffress and continue to strengthen the back end of the bullpen. All I know is that I do not believe that Melancon is enough to insure the Nats stay in control of the NL East or overcome the even year devil magic of the Giants or the destiny of the Cubs to go deep in the playoffs.
Dave is absolutely correct – the Nationals are essentially repeating the decisions of last year, albeit with a closer better positioned for success.
The Mark Melancon acquisition might not have delivered the same wow factor that a trade for Aroldis Chapman or Andrew Miller would have. But, the Nats did exactly what they set out to do: they brought home a reliable closer to replace Papelbon, and they did it without sacrificing top talent.
Few would argue that Papelbon should keep his role, so it’s a safe bet that Melancon represents a more reliable option. For anyone still on the fence about Papelbon’s declining performance, take a look at the results of his last three outings alone: a loss (July 24, vs. the Padres), a blown save loss (July 26, at Cleveland), and a hold (July 28, vs. the Giants). In the month of July, Papelbon’s skid brought his ERA from 3.16 to 4.41.
Melancon isn’t much of a flamethrower. According to FanGraphs, his fastball averages 91.6 MPH this year; to put that in perspective: that means Melancon’s average fastball is less than 4 MPH faster than Chapman’s average change-up. Nevertheless, Melancon has greater pitch diversity than both Papelbon and Chapman, and his track record over the past few seasons has been particularly impressive. Last year, Melancon led the Majors with 51 saves, and maintained a 2.23 ERA. This year, he’s already recorded 30 saves, while keeping his ERA well below 2.00.
Add to that, it isn’t terrible that the Nats improved their bullpen without adding another controversial personality to the clubhouse.
To what degree can the Nats do more? As Dave noted – in terms of offense, there’s little the team can do but hope for a late-season wakeup from Bryce Harper and continued success from Trea Turner. As was evidenced by the team’s series split with the Giants, the Nats simply aren’t swinging at good pitches; and, when Daniel Murphy is out of the line-up, they really feel the loss.
There weren’t any glaring missed opportunities for the Nats to trade for a hot bat. The Nats weren’t on Jonathan Lucroy’s short list; Carlos Beltran is having a better season than Jayson Werth, but he’s also two years older; and technically, Jay Bruce isn’t officially out of the realm of possibility as of publication, but it sounds like the Mets are all in and the Nats’ talks might have never been all that serious in the first place.
Essentially, this trade season carries the sense that the Nats are sticking with their familiar tactics and latching onto hope for a more inspiring outcome – a longer October stretch.
The question is – since the bullpen represented the Nats’ biggest trouble spot, does the Melancon acquisition prove enough to offset the other problem areas? I have to agree with Dave and say, no, I don’t believe so; at this point, Nats fans need to cross their fingers and hope for a resurgence.