Position: Right-Handed Reliever
2016 Stats: 71 1/3 IP, 24.1 K%, 4.4 BB%, 1.64 ERA, 2.91 DRA, 0.90 WHIP, 1.7 WARP
The Cubs built their bullpen the last two seasons in a manner suggesting they almost viewed it as an afterthought. They had a scrap heap pickup for a closer in Hector Rondon. Setup men Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Carl Edwards Jr. were all component pieces in larger trades. Newcomer Mike Montgomery and veteran stalwart Travis Wood were the main lefty contingents; coming to the Cubs via one-for-one deals five years apart. Trevor Cahill contributed quality innings as well, coming via trade and returning on a small one-year deal. There were other guys who ate innings, all coming from the draft, trades or low-level free agent signings. In short, they had never seen the reason to invest heavily in free agency to bolster the bullpen.
This is why the Cubs’ midseason addition of Aroldis Chapman befuddled me, to say the least. A plethora of free agent relievers (Andrew Miller, Joakim Soria and others) had been available for merely an outlay of cash during the offseason(s), but the Cubs’ front office ignored that portion of the market, as demonstrated above. The trade for Chapman seemed like an immediate about-face regarding bullpen construction theory, and one made at the expense of stud prospect Gleyber Torres, as well as some valuable ancillary pieces.
So what does this have to do with Mark Melancon? Well, because he—or maybe Jeremy Jeffress—is who the Cubs should have traded for last season, if they had any conviction regarding the previous moves they had made in building their ‘pen. To put this in perspective, the Nationals acquired Melancon for roughly the equivalent of Adam Warren and a prospect similar in value to Billy McKinney. If you don’t believe in spending huge dollars on relievers, then you most certainly should not believe in trading stud prospects to rent one for a few months. Prospects of Torres’ caliber are much, much harder to come by than money for a big-market team raking in dough as fast as the Cubs. I know what you’re thinking—flags fly forever—but you simply cannot use outcome to judge the quality of this trade. Besides, Chapman was only so-so in the playoffs when it mattered most.
Why He Fits:
My preference is for the Cubs to pursue Kenley Jansen (I don’t want to see any more lopsided trades), but perhaps Melancon could represent a middle-ground for Theo Epstein. MLBTradeRumors.com projects Melancon to receive a 4-year, $52 million contract, a full $30 million less than they project Jansen to receive. If Epstein wants to preserve his ideology of building a bullpen that doesn’t go after star power, but instead relies on value, Melancon could make some sense as an intermediary between Jansen and someone like Greg Holland.
On the field, the longtime Pirate has been rock-solid dating back to 2013, when he ditched his sinker in favor of a cutter he now throws around 65 percent of the time. The result was a pitcher who improved his command and reduced the amount of flyballs he allowed, while still missing enough bats to become incredibly effective. His velocity won’t get endlessly tossed around on Twitter (like it actually means something), and his peripherals won’t blow you away, but an ERA under 2.00 three of the last four years speaks softly and carries a big stick.
Adding Melancon to Strop, Grimm, Rondon and Edwards Jr. would give the Cubs a tremendous cache of right-handers from which to choose. Throw in Rob Zastryzny and possibly a cheap LOOGY (assuming Montgomery wins the fifth starter role), and you have yourself a dynamite bullpen.
Why It Won’t Work:
As Tommy Meyers pointed out in his excellent writeup of Brad Ziegler, the Cubs are already flush with right-handed talent in the bullpen. However, this might actually be an additional point in Melancon’s favor, as he has historically been even better against lefties than righties (.536 OPS allowed compared to .598). This fact might allow the Cubs to forego signing an additional lefty, as Melancon, Grimm and Zastryzny are all effective against left-handed hitters.
I don’t think there is much doubt that his contributions on the field are what the Cubs are looking for, but I think the real question is whether they want to commit significant longterm dollars to a reliever. There are varied and viable opinions regarding the wisdom of doing such, but I again point back to that being the preferred alternative over finding out later that you do need one, and then trading valuable assets away to satisfy the need.
There are a number of legitimate right-handed relievers on the market, but when comparing to Melancon there are really only two names to compare him two: Chapman and Jansen. If the Cubs opt to add a righty, but at a lesser expense than what Melancon will require, there are many options: Holland, Ziegler, Joe Blanton, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Fernando Salas and a few others. It is the year of the reliever, after all.
Lead photo courtesy of Geoff Burke—USA Today Sports