We could talk about the road trip but it's progressing like the Nats season has progressed for 100+ games now. Solid play making you think the Nats are about to finally put the rest of the NL East behind them followed by some slip-ups to make you worry just a teensy little bit. Like you can see worry coming, but it's not here yet. In the grand scheme of things the Nats played the homestand a couple games worse than I would have liked, but are likely to come out of the road trip at least a game better than I expected. Basically don't get swept in these three games and it's passable road trip, albeit one with a sad finish.
But who wants to talk about that. Let's talk about trades! Like last year I'll do it in self-questioning format.
Q: Same opening question - does this make the Nats better?
Yes. Losing Rivero isn't nothing but Melancon has been one of the top relief pitchers in baseball for four seasons now. The question of "who is going to close" may be a silly one but it's one that matters because it seems to have a psychological effect on the bullpen, the manager, and possibly the team. This answers that question with no uncertainty. Melancon, who is a great closer, will close. This lets Kelley fall into the much-hated by me but a fact of current baseball life "set-up role" and then let's Dusty do his match-up magic, with a more than competent collection of arms in the 7th and if necessary the 6th.
Q. What happens to Papelbon now?
I'm not exactly sure. He knows he's likely out as closer and he seems at peace with that idea. I assume that means he can feel something is up with how he's pitching, because he doesn't seem the type to accept this type of move if he thought he still "had it". Of course if you shift Papelbon into the set-up role you are simply moving the problem, not eliminating it. The best move and best guess of what happens now is that Kelley sticks in 8th and Pap joins the group of other guys for use whenever is necessary. There hasn't been a situation yet which would confirm this, but Papelbon was warming in relief of a losing game yesterday and Kelley was not. If that is his role, can he adapt to it and will he take to it? He may have been fine with the Melancon addition assuming he would be set-up. Also - as you can probably guess, Papelbon will not be back next year.
Q. Melancon for Rivero and a minor leaguer! Steal! Rizzo did it again!
Sort of. The Pirates were in a peculiar situation. They are still in contention for a Wild Card so they didn't want to give up on the season entirely, which trading Melancon for prospects would have been signifying. So they dangled Melancon out there with the price tag of "decent young middle relief arm already producing". That is a far cry from Melancon but it's also a hard piece for contenders to give up. You bring in Melancon you make your pen immediately much better. You bring in Melancon but give up a good young middle reliever you've been using, and that improvement is dulled. And that's even if you have a good young reliever. I looked around and found maybe 3 other arms on contenders that may have beaten a Rivero deal. If the Nats were willing to part with Rivero it was almost certain they would get Melancon. But still kudos to Rizzo for doing it.
Q. Did we lose too much? I keep hearing Rivero is great now that he's gone.
This is what it has come to. A 24/25 year old middle reliever with a 4.00+ ERA is considered too much for a rental closer. Look, if you go by value nearly ANYTHING is going to be too much for a rental closer. So if you buy that you can skip to the next paragraph now. Everything is too much for you in this kind of trade. If you are still around I'll tell you that relievers of the quality Rivero has shown so far are pretty fungible. He does seemingly have all the skills to be better. He doesn't get hit a lot, doesn't give up a lot of homers, has decent control and can strike people out. It wouldn't take much improvement for him to be elite. But that improvement still has to happen and he's starting to get into his peak years. If he doesn't do it say, in the next two years, I would be very doubtful that he will ever be anything more than another good pen arm. One of the things that concerned the Nats is that he seemed to wear out. He was ridden pretty hard by Dusty though so I'd be willing to bet that a lighter touch keeps him effective and ironically if the Pirates do make him a set-up or closer guy soon he should get less work. Arms though, who knows?
Q. What about this Hearn kid?
Taylor Hearn is a 5th round draft pick of the Nats last year. He was actually drafted four times, once by the Pirates, but kept staying in school for a better situation and got it. He was a starter but his middling results in low A, and live but fragile arm (multiple college injuries) made the Nats move him into a long relief role. He's a project who the Pirates are going to have to decide whether to keep trying as a starter or try to work into a reliever. Complete roll of the dice, but the physical ability means he's not a throw-in, he's a piece.
Q. So who gets lefties late in the game now that Rivero is gone?
Same guy that did before. Perez. Rivero wasn't actually great versus lefties this year. I'll chalk that up to small sample size, etc. but the fact is Perez was the LOOGY guy. Rivero was the full inning guy who could get out both. That's lefty is who needs to be replaced and the question right now is if Sammy Solis can do it. I don't personally think so but I also don't worry too much about it because the 8th and 9th look very good right now and the Nats have three arms right now in Stras, Max, and Roark who minimize the need for 7th inning help.
Q. What about the money! The Lerners added payroll, right?
Ummmm maybe? They got cash back from the Pirates but early rumors (and someone point me to an official source if you know one) is that it wasn't enough to cover all Melancon's remaining salary. Even factoring in what they don't have to pay Rivero, that still means they may be adding 2.5 - 3 million dollars. That's the most they've ever added and while it still leaves the payroll comparatively low, I can't complain too much. However, if this is indeed the case we do have to see the rest of the season play out. The 2nd most money they added in-season, a mere 1.5 million for Hairston way back in 2013, was wiped out by a dump waiver trade of Suzuki later that year. Could the Nats find a team to take a similar deal? They would LOVE to do it for Papelbon I bet and he'll be out there. They'll try this I guarantee and there goes the "added" salary. If Turner keeps playing it's also not crazy that Revere could be gone as well, though I'll admit it's doubtful.
Q. This is a lot of words. Would you do this deal? Do you think it's good?
Yes and yes. I think it makes the Nats pen better for 2016 and solves a current baseball problem. Should a closer be a big deal, probably not. But it is! You can't deny reality just because you don't think it should be that way. Rivero is good. I liked him. I'm sure the Nats started with "How about Treinen?" in talks with the Pirates. But I'm also sure the Nats are fine rolling with Kelley, Petit, Treinen, Glover and maybe a resigned Belisle to start 2017's pen. That's a decent base to which we'll see what the Nats add.
Q. What about the Marlins deal?
Eh. I'll tell you this, it makes it possible that the Marlins win the NL East. Not that it was IMpossible before. Sports are too unpredictable for that to be true. But before the trade the Marlins would have to go through August and September with the offense crushing it, Fernandez cruising, and the rest of the rotation not screwing things up. Given the quality of the rotation it was just as likely, if not more, that if the offense crushed and Fernandez cruised, the rest of the rotation would collapse and Miami still would be completely out of it. Now (if Rea is ok sooner rather than later) I don't see the rotation collapsing. It won't be good, but it just needed not to collapse to keep the Marlins in the playoff hunt and give them an outside chance of the East depending on what the Nats do. So basically the trade means the Nats can't put it into cruise control just yet. This Marlins team could end up with 90 wins (or 82!)
Q. What are you looking at today?
I want to see if Mets get Lucroy or Bruce or someone else to help an offense that desperately needs it. Last year the Mets and Cespedes immediately reacted to that deal to push the team through the last two months. There could be that muscle memory there if they make a similar deal. I want to see if the Marlins snag another blah rental starter (about what they can afford with that minor league system)