The Nationals have acquired closer Mark Melancon and cash from the Pirates in exchange for left-handed pitchers Felipe Rivero and Taylor Hearn, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com.
Washington has been aggressively pursuing back-end bullpen help for weeks, with Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Wade Davis and Jeremy Jeffress among the other names they have considered. Melancon just became available in recent days, with the Pirates looking to cash in on his pending free agency.
Melancon, 31, has posted a stellar 1.51 ERA in 41.2 innings with the Bucs this year while saving 30 games. He was an All-Star for the third time in four seasons, and will immediately replace Jonathan Papelbon as the Nationals’ closer.
Papelbon was acquired by Washington last year at the deadline, but has struggled to a 4.41 ERA in what is his worst major-league season so far. He could work as a setup man for Melancon, similarly to how Drew Storen stepped into the setup role when Papelbon was acquired last year.
Pittsburgh’s return for Melancon will likely bring the asking price for relief pitching back to earth after the Yankees’ haul from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman caused the market to stall. The Pirates turned two months of Melancon into two controllable, high-upside lefties in Rivero and Hearn.
The Bucs have been looking for a major-league reliever in talks for Melancon and will get one in Rivero. The 25-year old has posted a 4.53 ERA in 47 appearances for the Nats so far this year, and will provide Pittsburgh with a bullpen option that is controlled through the 2021 season.
Despite Rivero’s struggles so far this season, he has reached triple digits with his fastball and is highly regarded as an impact reliever in the future. He was originally acquired by the Nats before the 2015 season in a deal that sent Jose Lobaton to Washington and Nathan Karns to the Rays.
Hearn, 21, was selected as the Nationals’ 5th-round pick in last year’s draft after being drafted on three previous occasions out of high school and junior college. He was originally drafted by the Pirates in 2012 in the 22nd round but did not sign, only to end up as a member of the organization four years later.
Hearn, a 6-foot-5, 210 lb. lefty, has posted a 2.79 ERA in 10 games (four starts) split between Washington’s rookie-league affiliate and Single-A Hagerstown this year, and has missed most of the season due to a broken foot. He is ranked by MLB.com as the 27th-best prospect in the Nationals’ system, and is touted for his big fastball (consistently 95-98 mph). Hearn may project as a reliever in the majors.