April 25, 2017

Mike Rizzo Gives Nationals Chance to Win it All on Back Nine

July 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Washington Nationals got their man today when they traded for Mark Melancon of the Pirates. The trade is not yet official, but apparently Washington has dealt Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn to Pittsburgh for Melancon.

The trade constitutes is a Coup d’etat right here in Washington, DC.  The ruling elite who predicted that Washington would be forced to match the deep array of talent that Theo Epstein traded for Chapman have been overthrown and hopefully are being led away in chains.

The Nationals got a proven closer who ranks among the top Major League ninth inning specialists in the game today. And Lucas Giolito was not included in the deal. Nor were any other top prospects. The conventional wisdom was that the Nationals would be forced to trade at least one treasured prospect to gain the services of a top tier closer. But no one would rank Felipe Rivero or Hearn in that category.

It is difficult not to compare the two trades. Both Chapman and Melancon are free agents at the end of this season and a comparison can be constructed that is very much apples to apples.

The most obvious comparison is the offerings of Melancon and Chapman. Yes, Aroldis Chapman can throw harder than Melancon. Chapman strikes out more batters per nine innings: 12.6 to be exact so far in 2016. That compares to 8.2 for Melancon, who is 31 and has lost a little off his fastball that was never overpowering in the way that Aroldis Chapman’s is.

Melancon relies on a cut fastball that he says he learned from Mariano Rivera when he was with the Yankees. He admits that he perfected the pitch in Pittsburgh with Russell Martin as his catcher. Perfection is what he came close to achieving in 2015 when he blew two save opportunities and recorded his league leading 51 saves. It was the best save percentage in the Majors. Melancon has not been quite as good in 2016, blowing three saves and recording 30 in the first four months of the season. But it is still among the best in the game.

The issue is not so much who throws harder or is more effective. The bottom line is that both Chapman and Melancon are very good closers and among the best in both leagues. What matters so much for the Washington Nationals is that they did not have to give up top tier talent to get their top tier closer. The Chicago Cubs gave up infinitely more to get Chapman than what Washington sent to the Pirates. Which is not to disrespect anyone. Chicago has a plethora of talent and Theo Epstein is going all in.  “If not now, when?” he asked. And so he traded away Gleyber Torres, the number 26 overall prospect, along with Adam Warren, Billy McKinney and Rahad Crawford. But this is a comparison and Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearns cannot even carry the clubs for the talent that the Yankees got for Chapman.

It is interesting to point out that Washington was in far more desperate straights than the Cubs. Epstein had forced their hand and there were only two days left before the trade deadline. Epstein was in effect the leader in the clubhouse watching the others across the top of whatever he was drinking. Jonathan Papelbon was like a double boogie on the sixteenth hole. Rizzo was in trouble and had found a bunker with his drive on the seventeenth. He had no plan B, which is why the name of Lucas Giolito suddenly appeared as part of a hypothetical package that the Nationals might have been willing to trade to the Yankees for Andrew Miller. Were they ever desperate enough to trade Lucas Giolito for Andrew Miller?. We will never know, because Mike Rizzo got out of the bunker and had an eagle on 18 for the win.

At the end of the day, the Washington Nationals are still one of the strongest teams in the National League and the addition of Melancon should give them the ability to compete on an even footing with the Chicago Cubs or anyone else in the post-season. That is all you can ask for on the back nine. A chance for a win on the eighteenth green. And that may be where we are heading.

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