After weeks of immobility and thunderous silence from the summit of Mt. Olympus, yesterday the gods stirred. While no lightning bolts were thrown nor maidens impregnated by amorphous deities, there was substantial activity within the Red Sox camp. As the world knows, we need a closer. Jonathan Papelbon gracelessly signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, leaving a paucity of effective late inning pitchers. Yesterday, the Sox traded for a developing closer, Mark Melancon of the Houston Astros,  in exchange for a winless pitcher with an e.r.a. of 7.6, Kyle Weiland  and our first draft pick of 2005, Jed Lowrie.

The questions then arise, who got the better deal and how did the trade help curing our dearth of closers. Earlier in the month, it was announced that Daniel Bard, Papelbon’s set up man with a 100 mph  fastball,  was to be a starter, at least at first of the season.  The consensus was Bard was the obvious choice to replace Papelbon, so when the intention for management to make Bard a starter surfaces, in effect, we had no closer. At the end of season there was the usual flurry of free agent signings and trades, but there was nothing from Olympus. There were and still are two high quality closers to be had, Ryan Madson, a free agent with the Phillies and Andrew Bailey, who is being marketed by Oakland. The Sox are probably going to try to get Bailey, but, as always, what will we give up.

Jed Lowrie was the Red Sox’s first round draft pick in 2005 and was projected to be the shortstop of all shortstop, a probable candidate to be grouped with the likes of the young Derek Jeter and the Wizard of Oz, Ozzie Smith.  His potential was enormous until it was discovered that, along with his speed and quickness, he was fragile. In early 2008 he suffered a sprain and non-displaced fracture of his left wrist, which still dogs him to date. He has also had shoulder problems and mononucleosis. His talent is undeniable, but his lack physical reliability has kept him 0ff and on the DL, with several rehab trips to the minors. We have now resigned Marco Scutaro, our current  starting short stop, and with another acquisition  yesterday for Nick Punto, also a short stop, Lowrie was being pushed lower and lower on the depth chart. His physical condition is just too delicate.

So, after weeks of seeming inactivity, those who must be obeyed, traded Lowrie and Weiland to the Astros, in return for Mark Melancon. Who got the best of that deal? What we got rid of was a  pitcher with a very uncertain future and a fragile shortstop for a good, not great but good, pitcherwho has promise as a closer. Melancon’s stats, last year show a little less oomph than Papelbon’s over the same period. Melancon’s e.r.a. was 2.78 and Pap’s was 2.94.  Melancon pitched 74.1 innings with 66 Ks  and Pap pitched 64.1 innings with 87 Ks. Their WHIP ratings were both good, with Pap’s at 1.02 and Melancon’s at 1.22.Is Melancon an equal replacement for Papelbon? No, but he is good and his stats show improvement each year, and shows great promise without the attitude.  Each player has changed leagues which may have an influence as Melancon won’t have to hit this year.

In short, we have a better team than we did before the trade. If Bard is to become a starter, Melancon, with his proven solid track record, can step in as closer. Getting rid of Lowrie and Weiland jettisoned  talent of unproven utility; whether Houston will fare better with it’s new acquisitions is of no moment as it is highly unlikely we will meet them in the World Series; although it would be a real hoot if we did. More importantly, the front office has shown an interest in fielding a team of championship caliber, which up until now, did not seem probable. One can only hope this newly displayed enthusiasm shown by the front office will continue and the luxury tax will not be a limiting factor.  Let us hope, as citizens of Red Sox nation, that the sun is rising and all of my dire prognostications of the past will become the mutterings  of a doddering  old fool.

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