Red Sox and Astros Strike a Deal

The Red Sox lost closer Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies, and they plan on stretching eighth inning flame thrower Daniel Bard out in spring training. Needless to say, their bullpen is major upheaval. On Wednesday they dealt infielder Jed Lowrie and prospect arm Kyle Weiland to the Astros for late inning reliever Mark Melancon to help with the makeover process.

Lowrie goes from a valuable utility infielder for the Red Sox to the expected starting shortstop with the Astros. His fantasy value gets a huge boost with the change of address. A hot April had owners scrambling to the waiver wire to add Lowrie this season. He hit .368/.389/.574, good for a .962 OPS. A great follow up to a scorching August and September in 2010 when he hit nine home runs and 10 doubles in 147 at-bats. People who buy into the myth of the magical age 27 season almost certainly believed the former sandwich pick was breaking out. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off the bus and he didn’t have an OPS over .700 in any other month during the 2011 season.

His numbers came back to Earth after April. Beyond general regression, part of the reason for the drop in production could have been an injured left shoulder that eventually landed him on the disabled list in August. Since the Astros agreed to the deal, it’s safe to assume he passed his physical. That said, Lowrie has had a rough go of staying on the field in his young career missing time with mononucleosis and a wrist injury that required surgery. None of the injuries are related, so chalk the missed time up to bad luck more so than him being injury prone.

Now a full-time regular with the Astros, Lowrie has a chance to flirt with finishing top-10 at the shortstop position. As a bonus, he is third base eligible as well. He offers nothing in stolen bases, but should be an above average contributor at the position in home runs. Just how much power he provides will determine his ultimate ceiling in fantasy games. Trading Fenway Park for Minute Maid Park is a good starting point. Fenway Park plays neutral to positive on right-handed power, but depresses left-handed home run totals substantially. Minute Maid Park inflates home run totals to both left-handed and right-handed batters, with the bigger impact being felt by left-handers. Lowrie is a switch-hitter that has an extreme flyball approach, and should benefit greatly from his new home. Setting the expectation at a mid-teen home run total is fair, but if he harnesses the skills he exhibited in 2010, eclipsing 20 home runs isn’t out of the question. His batting average might leave something to be desired (.252 career hitter), though, 920 plate appearances spread out over four seasons is too few to draw a firm conclusion from. Both in his minor league career, and at times in his major league career, he has drawn walks at an excellent rate, so give him a nudge up draft boards in leagues that count OBP.

Weiland was rushed into major league duty in a playoff chase this season before he was really ready. The results were ugly, but he is a semi-intriguing prospect. His ceiling is that of a fourth or fifth starter. He throws a sinking fastball in the low-90s that can touch mid-90s, curveball, cutter and change-up. His curveball is his best secondary offering, and can generate some swinging strikes. Weiland sported an 8.42 K/9 in Double-A in 2010 and an 8.84 K/9 in Triple-A this season. Though his control could use some refinement, it isn’t terrible (mid-to-high-3s BB/9). If he’s able to translate his strikeout rate to the majors, and his sinker induces groundballs at a solid rate, fantasy relevance isn’t unreachable in large mixed leagues or only formats.

Once a member of the Evil Empire, Melancon finds himself on the other side of the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry. He saved 20 games in 25 chances, and may end up in the closer mix depending on how the rest of the offseason and Bard’s transition to starting pans out. Melancon was used frequently this year piling up 74.1 innings. His best pitching attribute was his ability to force batters to hit the ball into the ground at a high clip (56.7 percent groundball rate). He didn’t post an eye popping strikeout rate, or display pristine control, but both rates were acceptable and resulted in a 2.54 BB:K.

Melancon predominantly throws a fastball with plus velocity (92.5 mph average four-seam fastball velocity), curveball, and cutter. Those three pitches made up 93.2 percent of his usage this year. He’ll rarely mix in a sinker or change-up to his primary trio of pitches. Melancon’s top swing-and-miss offering is the curveball. His “Uncle Charlie,” netted a 17.4 percent whiff rate. That type of put-away pitch makes him a candidate for a bump in strikeout rate, even if he is going from the National League to the American League.

Color me skeptical of Bard’s ability to transition to a starter role. He has never started a game in the upper minors, and his control was a wreck as a starter in the low minors in 2007. Bard mostly flourished as the bridge to Papelbon, and is my pick to close games if the Red Sox don’t bring in another outsider to the bullpen. Bringing in an outsider like Andrew Bailey through trade, or Ryan Madson through free agency, though, is still a distinct possibility. Melancon’s fantasy value hinges on him racking up saves. In a setup capacity, his value will be limited to leagues that count holds and AL-only leagues.