Rapid Reaction: Melancon adds flexibility

Astrros closer Mark Melancon might not end up being Jonathan Papelbon's replacement, but he gives the Red Sox some much-needed flexibility. AP Photo/Dave Einsel

This acquisition of Astros closer Mark Melancon might not wow the masses, but it’s a strong step in improving the team’s relief corps and gives them an option in the back of the bullpen.

The 26-year-old right-hander could end up being Jonathan Papelbon’s replacement at closer (he was 20 of 25 in save attempts last season), but don’t expect the team to settle on him as their guy. He might project as more of a setup man in the American League. Nevertheless, he gives the Red Sox some much-needed flexibility in case they come up empty in their pursuit of other options (think free-agent Ryan Madson or A’s closer Andrew Bailey).

The Red Sox didn’t give up much in the deal, which sent oft-injured infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland to Houston. The Red Sox get a strong, young pitcher that is under the team’s control for the next four years, while surrendering a broken down infielder along with a deer-in-the-headlights pitching prospect.

Not too shabby.

In the past year, many teams have shown interest in Weiland and believe he will develop into a fully serviceable big league starter at some point, and maybe a change of scenery will help. Lowrie simply couldn’t stay healthy for a variety of reasons, including a lingering wrist issue.

Melancon is a solid late-inning guy with a ton of upside no matter what role GM Ben Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine decide is best for the club. Melancon had an 8-4 record to go along with his 20 saves and a 2.78 ERA in 71 appearances for the Astros last season. He struck out 66 and walked 26 in 74 1/3 innings.

According to his Inside Edge scouting report, Melancon threw 68 percent fastballs (he has a low-90s four-seamer and cutter), 24 percent breaking balls and 7 percent changeups in 2011.

He was particularly effective against right-handers, holding them to a .228 batting average and a .581 OPS last season. He also finished strong, holding all hitters to a .215 average after the All-Star break and converting 14 of 16 save chances over that span.