Is former Houston Astros’ closer, Mark Melancon, an option for the bullpen in 2016?
Much has been made of the Houston Astros perceived need of a “closer” or “flamethrower” to help the organization take the next step towards contention. Names like Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Craig Kimbrel have been mentioned as possible candidates at one time or another this winter.
But the issue with each of those relievers is the associated price tag of acquiring their services. The San Diego Padres netted four prospects from the Boston Red Sox for Kimbrel earlier in November. And the package required to pry Chapman or Miller from their respective franchises seems like a steep one as well.
However, there are options abound on the trade market who could make sense from not only a financial standpoint but also be advantageous concerning prospects for the Astros. One reliever that may fit this description is none other than former Astro, and current Pittsburgh Pirate closer, Mark Melancon. Per an article from Richard Justice of MLB.com, the Pirates closer is someone that could make sense for the Astros heading into 2016.
At first glance, this seems to be a good fit for both parties. The familiarity is there since Melancon would return to a place where he experienced his first notable success at the major league level as a closer from 2010-11. The Houston Astros would add a closer-type pitcher who has saved 84 games in the past two seasons and elevates the quality depth in the bullpen. The 30-year old right-hander would also fit right back in at Minute Maid Park considering his high groundball percentage (57.5% in 2015) and his HR/FB ratio of the past few seasons (4.7% in 2014, 3.2% in 2013). And if the Pirates have lower trade demands than say the Cincinnati Reds or New York Yankees in terms of prospects, then exploring the possible reacquisition of Melancon could be a wise move.
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There are a few roadblocks, however, to a potential reunion between Melancon and the Astros.
A primary concern has to be Houston’s ability to retain Melancon, who is scheduled to be on the free agent market during this time a year from now. He will also be due a pay raise from his base salary of $5.4 million, which is surely to rise in 2016 based on his 2015 performance. So if the former Astro pitches well next season, he could be in line for a hefty contract as the primary closer for any organization interested in his services.
And a drop in quality production could also be a viable concern.
Consider this: Melancon has seen his FIP raise each year since 2013 (1.64 to 2.09 to 2.82). His HR/FB ratio raise considerably to 8.3% in 2015. The Pirates closer has also seen his strikeout percentage drop to its lowest point since 2012 (21.2% in 2015), which leads to another question whether he is the type of pitcher the Astros need in the bullpen. With a similar closer, barring changes, in Luke Gregerson in terms of low strikeouts/high groundball percentage, the front office may choose to look elsewhere. This may lead the need of a flamethrower, warranted or not, to prevail over any other possible route the team may take to improve the club for 2016.
Regardless of a continued drop-off in quality production in 2016, Melancon is at least an intriguing option for the Houston Astros at this point. If he is reacquired, then his addition would strengthen the bullpen with another proven veteran reliever capable of closing games.
However, the lack of hard thrower maybe too much for the Houston Astros to ignore, especially with Chapman and Miller still on the market. But we should definitely keep an eye on the current Pirates closer as a possible option while the offseason marches on.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs.com**
**Contract information provided by Spotrac.com**