Nationals: Fantasy Impact of Mark Melancon Trade

The Nationals needed another arm in the bullpen. With limited options available, the team traded for veteran Mark Melancon.

The trade deadline is two days away, and the moves keep getting bigger.

In what looks like a three-team race for the National League pennant, the Washington Nationals added a big piece to their bullpen by trading for closer Mark Melancon. With the struggles that current closer Jonathan Papelbon is going through, it makes sense for Washington to make a move. There is a lot of fantasy baseball impact as a result.

Before joining the Nationals around the same time last season, Papelbon was known as one of the best closers in the game. He had a 2.33 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 342 career saves between the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies.

His 57 games with the Nationals haven’t been quite that good. He has 26 total saves with a 3.83 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 7.3 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. That low strikeout rate and inflated walk rate are causing the higher-than-normal ratio stats. 

Papelbon wasn’t always this bad, though. Despite having some rough outings, he had a 2.56 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 31.2 innings. It’s the last three appearances that had fantasy owners and Nationals management picking up the phone. In one inning over three games, he allowed seven earned runs on seven hits and four walks. His ERA? 63.00.

Since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates, Melancon has been amazing. In 267 games, 260.1 innings, he has a 1.80 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 130 saves. Some of his peripherals are similar to Papelbon’s. He has a career 8.3 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9. This season, he has a 1.51 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 and 30 saves.

Neither man is a strikeout pitcher with a fastball in the low 90s. They post low strikeout rates, sitting around 21-22 percent. The similarity in stats makes it interesting that the Nationals would trade for a guy with like performances.

With this move, it’s likely that Melancon finishes the season as the Nationals closer with Papelbon pitching in the eighth inning. This is something most fans wanted them to do last year with Drew Storen. Unless you play in deeper leagues, Papelbon isn’t worth owning.

I was surprised Pittsburgh made the move, but digging deeper, I understand why they did it. The Pirates sit at 52-49, third in the National League Central. The Chicago Cubs are dominating that division and the St. Louis Cardinals are still a team to watch, making the Pirates somewhat sellers.

Luckily, the Pirates still have some names in the bullpen that could have value in the final two months. Longtime set-up man Tony Watson and veteran relief pitcher Neftali Feliz are the two likely options to pitch in the ninth inning.

There is a dark horse in the bullpen that could takeover and it’s one player that Pittsburgh received in return, Felipe Rivero. Despite the high ERA, he has 9.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. The Pirates have control of the 25-year-old through the 2021 season, so he is a sleeper in dynasty leagues.

This trade has a lot of residual effects. Papelbon is not worth owning in leagues other than NL-only or leagues with holds. Melancon value may be higher, only for the fact that the team is eyeing October. Watson (11.6 ESPN ownership percentage) and Feliz (6.8 percent) gain value with the potential to earn more saves and Rivero is the prospect to watch in the future.