This is a classic GM move. Cash in on relievers when their stock is high. Mark Melancon was a tidy little piece, taken from the Yankees in the Lance Berkman trade, with a solid cut-fastball, and no real out pitch as such. On a very good team he is a seventh-inning, occasional set-up man at worst. He did a good job on a very bad bullpen last year.
But Jeff Luhnow was bang on in moving him for Jed Lowrie, a relatively young, cost-controlled shortstop, who may become a very good ballplayer if he can stay healthy, something he did not quite achieve in Boston. He has a reasonable SLG% in his short career, and has the ability to draw a free pass.
Meanwhile the Kyle Weiland move is even shrewder. They have a major league ready starter who did not have a great debut in 2011, but as a college pitcher drafted in 2008 has had a steady minor league career progression and has solid H/9, K/9 and BB/9.
I like the fact that Luhnow sold high and Ben Cherington bought high and sold low. I guess we should not hack the Red Sox to death as both pieces are still a roll of the dice for the Astros. As Over the Monster summarises quite succinctly:
This is the kind of deal where both sides should be happy. The Red Sox get an inexpensive (and talented) bullpen piece that has had success and is under contract for five more seasons, do so by dealing from a position of depth, and open up a 40-man roster spot, too. The Astros, who are struggling to succeed, get to roll the dice on the oft-injured (but talented) Jed Lowrie, and also attempt to see if Kyle Weiland can continue as a starter. If they are wrong, they can move Weiland to relief, as the Sox likely would have, effectively replacing Melancon's innings in the future.
Meanwhile Weiland goes perhaps to the top of the queue in the battle over rotation spots for 2012. With Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers possibly out of the door this winter, only Bud Norris, J.A. Happ and Jordan Lyles remain, and there is a slim chance Lyles might be sent back to AAA (not likely but it is a possibility).
Without Melancon to anchor the staff the bullpen might fall apart in 2012, but why hoard a closer when you are going to win 50/60 games. A healthy Brandon Lyon might mitigate this problem somewhat, or it might be another bloodbath a-la 2011. If the Astros system cannot generate a closer as good or better than Melancon in the next three years I will be shocked.
Overall, very pleased with this move.