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Friday, December 2, 2022

Neal Huntington Discusses the Mark Melancon Trade

The Pirates made their first trade around the deadline today, dealing Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals for left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero, and left-handed starting pitching prospect Taylor Hearn. After the trade, Neal Huntington met with the media via conference call, discussing the many aspects of the deal. He started by talking about what a difficult decision it was to deal Melancon.

“We’re here to talk about a very difficult decision today, given the person Mark Melancon is,” Huntington said. “He’s poured his heart and soul into this organization, and obviously he’s done tremendous work for us on the field. In December of 2012, we traded an All-Star closer for a young, unproven Major League reliever. Our goal in this move is to continue that chain of quality production. Felipe Rivero we’ve got this year and five more years for potential contribution. And Taylor Hearn, if everything comes together the way we believe it will, we’ve got six years of potential contribution from a very talented left-handed arm.”

I probably don’t have to mention that the All-Star closer they traded in 2012 was Joel Hanrahan, with Mark Melancon being the unproven Major League reliever in that deal. If this deal works out in the same manner, it would be a great one for the Pirates. Here is a rundown of Huntington’s comments on the deal.

Rivero Joins the Late Inning Mix

Huntington said that Tony Watson would take over as the new closer, with Neftali Feliz moving to the 8th inning role and closing when Watson needs a break. Felipe Rivero would take over as the 7th inning guy.

“We believe Rivero can plug right in to a high leverage role in our bullpen,” Huntington said.

The Pirates saw Rivero throw three shutout innings against them last week in their 18 inning game against the Nationals. Rivero has been used in multi-inning appearances, and should give the Pirates another multi-inning option in the middle innings, pairing well with Juan Nicasio. Rivero has also started in the past, but Huntington said their plan is to use him as a reliever.

As for the long-term, Huntington did invoke the Hanrahan/Melancon trade in his opening statement. So does that mean they see Rivero as a future closer?

“It’s always hard to label somebody a closer,” Huntington said. “Most people didn’t label Mark Melancon a closer when we traded for him. Most people didn’t label Jason Grilli a closer when we signed him as a free agent after he was released by Philadelphia. Most people didn’t label Joel Hanrahan as a closer when we traded for him. My guess is if you go back before Matt Capps, most people probably didn’t label Matt Capps a closer when he was drafted and was coming through the Pirates’ system. That label was earned. Do we see quality stuff, strikes, swing and miss, things that late inning reliever have? Yes we do, and that’s very intriguing to us.”

One big question is why the Pirates felt the need to make this move now, with their current position in the standings, rather than in the off-season, when there were so many rumors involving Melancon. Huntington said the goal in the off-season was to compete for the division. They have the same goal now, although their chances have greatly changed.

“We sit here today with an intent to win a division, but the reality is wins and losses that have been banked so far this year — in December and November they hadn’t been,” Huntington said. “In December and November, there was different elements to the construct of the deal. Different elements to the construct of the varying components of the deal that were weighed in the decision making process.”

The Other Long-Term Upside to the Deal

Rivero provides some long-term upside as a power lefty and a late inning reliever that the Pirates will have for five more seasons beyond 2016. But the long-term part of this deal looks even better with the addition of Taylor Hearn, who is also a power lefty with the potential to start. There were reports that Hearn touched 100 MPH, but Huntington noted that Pirates scouts didn’t see that. They did see him sitting comfortably in the 93-97 MPH range, occasionally hitting 98.

Hearn was out for over two months with a broken foot, and returned to the Nationals in a bullpen role, working in long relief. He entered the year as a starter, and only moved to the bullpen as part of his rehab, to ease him back in to starting.

“The Nationals were in the process of using him in a protected role in the bullpen, building him up,” Huntington said. “He injured his foot earlier in the season, and we will continue that plan. We do see starter traits in Taylor, but we need to connect to him, understand where he is in his program [and] his process, and we will look to continue to build his pitches and get him in a role that he believes he’s comfortable with, and we believe we can maximize his potential.”

Huntington did say that they expected to get Hearn stretched out as a starter, although there’s no timetable for that to happen. He will go to West Virginia, a team he has not seen yet this year. He did face Morgantown last year in the lower levels, giving up two runs on five hits in 4.1 innings, with a walk and four strikeouts (Kevin Newman had an RBI single off of him, obviously).

As for his secondary stuff and abilities, Huntington said the Pirates’ scouts liked what they saw.

“We see a loose arm, a good athlete, a man that shows some feel on the mound,” Huntington said. “We see flashes of a really good breaking ball, flashes of really quality hand speed, which is the key to a good changeup. We’ll get our hands on him. We’ll get a feel for what they’ve worked with him on, and where he’s making progress, and if there are some areas we can help him with.”

The Pirates typically have a no-touch policy for new prospects, where they evaluate them only before making adjustments to their game. The earliest I’d expect any adjustments with Hearn would be during the Fall Instructional League, or maybe even Spring Training next year.

The Reaction in the Clubhouse

One big concern with making a move like this is the reaction in the clubhouse. The Pirates aren’t the strongest contenders, and they are still trying to contend after this move. But a lot of this move was made with an eye to the future, rather than going all-in on the current season.

“We continue to push forward to be one of the five playoff clubs at the end of the season, and in the interim we’ll strengthen ’17 and ’18,” Huntington said. “We dealt from an area of strength, and strengthened our future, without changing our goals and our intent this season.”

So how might that impact the other players in the clubhouse, who are currently contending for 2016?

“Players that are focused on today, and focused on winning tonight’s game may not understand that moving Mark Melancon is the right decision for an organization,” Huntington said. “We certainly respect and appreciate that. We also anticipate that we just saw Rivero throw 100 MPH over three innings not too long ago in Washington. They understand the quality of this young man’s arm [and] stuff. Our guys believe in Tony Watson and Neftali Feliz, and what they’ve seen out of [them] this year, and we believe that they understand we just added a quality arm that we can continue to roll forward with.”

Any reactions about trading Melancon might be altered by Monday night. The Pirates were rumored to be looking to add a starting pitcher after the Melancon deal was finished. Huntington discussed their ability to add players, even after they traded a player away.

“We are still working phones, and still working back channels, and still working through the process to see if there is something that we can add to this group that complements this group,” Huntington said. “And that pushes us to being one of those five teams that makes the post-season.”

The Pirates saved some money in this deal, which could allow them to take on some additional salary. Huntington didn’t discuss that potential, instead saying that the focus was on the return they got in the deal.

“The focus of the deal was the return we got,” Huntington said. “We really liked the return that we got for two months of Mark. As good as he is, as productive as he’s been and will be for the next two months, we liked the return. … If there’s something out there that makes sense for us, absolutely. The bottom line is, much like what drove this deal, what is the return and the future impact, and the current impact?”

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Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.


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FWIW, Keith Law (and others) thinks the Nationals screwed up making this deal. He really likes Rivero and when you add in how long we get to keep him over MM, it was a win for the Bucs.

Pirates get good value dealing closer to the Nationals


Remember, Nats know he is a free agent at the end of year. It puts Bucs in a tough position.

Brian DeLeo

What in the hell was Huntington saying in that construct of the deal in Nov / Dec commentary? Can anyone decipher?


In Dec, we weren’t two games over .500 and floundering.

The reality of it, is that we are, uh, not good, in 2016. Melancon, to me, at least, was a luxury.

Brian DeLeo

Agree he had to be dealt before he walked and we got zero return. Not sure NH should be openly acknowledging low probability of playoffs

Robert W

This deal might not be as one sided as we all would have liked, but Mark was to be gone through free agency after the season. If you really think NH did not offer MM a good deal prior to arbitration, your nuts. MM was not going to be a Pirate after the season and unless we are ahead in the late innings by less than 3 runs, he would be worthless. 2 big arms is better than 1 anyday.


Hearn isn’t a big league arm and will likely never be. Rivero is no guarantee to stick in the big leagues either. Took him 5 years to get out of the minors and he was never on any top prospect list. Chances are that he flunks out to be a AAAA arm

michael schalke

Not true Moose.


You need to read this site more Moose. And take some smart pills…


Must be those smart pills that made you such a genius.


Nope, my genius comes directly from this and a half dozen other sites that teach modern baseball theory to the masses.


Was that supposed to hurt my feelings or something? What are you, 16? I’ve been reading this site for years. Smarten yourself up and look at the Felipe Rivera we already have, his last name is Caminero. And now we have 2, and the new one is now going to pitch in high leverage spots now. You seriously that’s good for this team?

mitch t

Miller will be an Indian for a couple more years while MMelancon will be a Nat for 3 months so you can’t compare a return. The MMelancon we got from Boston for a year of hanrahan was a pretty good comparable to Rivero: great stuff, great rookie having troubles in sophomore year. If they were giving up on the season they would have emphasized the prospect.

They’ve been scouting Hearn for 4 years so I’d say he’s a pretty well researched lottery ticket. Frankly it might be time to work on the bullpen of the future.


So Andrew Miller nets Clint Frazier in return and we get this? At first I liked this deal but now not so much after seeing what the Yankees got for Chapman and Miller.

michael schalke

Not close to Andrew Miller in ability or contract.


Miller has 2 more years on his contract after this. Also teams pay for big K numbers.


Valid points. I just think NH could have gotten a little more.


Doesn’t matter. NH got fleeced. He had one of the best closers in baseball and basically got nothing in return. Chapman set the market. Melancon should have brought you at least a top 25 prospect and a bullpen arm with an ERA better than 4. And if the Nats or anyone else didn’t want to pay that, then you keep your pitcher and bite the bullet with his contract. The Nats needed a closer more than we needed to trade one, why is the FO so incompetent at making that fact work for them


Does anyone see the pattern of losing “leaders”. No Neil Walker, AJ Burnett, Now Melancon. Can discuss WHIP, WARs and ERA all day, but the Pirates have no discipline, look like hell and are giving away leaders…. And it ain’t Cutch filling the void.

michael t

Exactly right. A team does not like to see its leaders dealt away over money or vague “future” control and the assumption of performance from a player who hasn’t done it yet. Happ also was a respected veteran who performed and thrived as a Pirate. Even Pedro was extremely well like by all reports. You can get caught up in stats and potential, and forget it is a team game. Sometimes the right business move can harm the present team.


Man I love this trade. You will be eating these words a year from now.

michael schalke

Yes sir, when you can get 2 guys with this much upside for someone who was walking at seasons’s end you do it.


Throwing hard doesnt make you a good pitcher, nor does it mean you even have upside. What are you people smoking if you look at this trade compared to similar deals already made and think that the Pirates gained something? Felipe Rivero has never been a highly touted player. His upside is essentially a league average reliever. And Hearns outlook is worse. I would rather have Melancon help this team now and let him walk for nothing. He might actually add more value to this team in those 2 months than these 2 pitcher will in their entire Pirates careers.


I doubt it but I hope your right


Good chance that Rivero will still be pitching for the Bucs for a few years after MM is out of baseball.

Thomas H

Whenever I hear Huntington talk, I feel like I am being conned. Maybe it’s just me.


He’s speaking to the average fan, who doesn’t understand modern baseball theory, thinks everything is about payroll, etc… so basically he’s constantly trying to walk us down off the bridge. It’s a tough job.


Yeah, it takes a sophisticated fan like you to explain to the rest of us idiots how trading away your closer really isn’t waving the white flag on this season. Thank God there are geniuses like you around.


Well – I am certainly not as sophisticated a fan as you are, otherwise I would be running around in circles with my hair on fire.

NorCal Buc

Many other whiners here, too. You are not alone


I see this deal as a nice Keller-Hinsz-Hearn combo down the line, with similarities to what we’re seeing now with Taillion-Glasnow-Kuhl. The question now is, who is the odd man out in the Power rotation with the addition of Hearn? Or will the Pirates continue his bullpen program and add him to the rotation for a couple of starts near the end of the season?


I still can’t get over the fact that NH actually had to pay the Nats $500K in this deal. This has to be the worst negotiating since the Indians sold Manhattan for trinkets and beads. I mean really, what did the Nats GM say, Neal we can’t possibly take Melancon off your hands unless you pony up some cash? As long as someone as clearly incapable of intelligent negotiation is GM of the Pirates, they’ll never win a championship.


Most people in baseball consider GMNH a top 5 GM. But you know better right…


This must have been a good trade. The whiners do not like it, so it must be a good trade.

NorCal Buc

Were they the same whiners when we acquired Gonzalez, then Harrahan, then Melancon, then Grilli?

This site is good therapy for incessant whiners


I don’t know if I really care about building up for 2017 if Cutch, Kang and Liriano can’t get their collective acts together. That’s about a third of team payroll right there. If they don’t perform next year, Bucs won’t even be .500 at the rate other teams are improving.


Demoralized team looking the part tonight.


You might see “demoralized”.

I see “this offense sucks.”

I don’t think tonight’s performance had one iota to do with MM.

I also think Hurdle screwed the pooch by letting Gas Cam stay in. I was calling for Niese to face the three consecutive LH hitters. Scooter got lucky against Niese – he was fooled and stuck the bat out for a cheap RBI hit. But that run doesn’t score if fucking Gas Cam doesn’t walk a left handed pinch hitter batting .083.

And really, can’t we send Hughes down instead of Schugel next time a move needs to be made?

At this point, I don’t care if Bell’s hands are cinder blocks. The team needs his bat desperately.


Agree 100% with Bell

michael t

They played their worst game of the year against the Brewers JV team.
They looked like a team in mourning and distracted….and so did the manager. All the outfielders played like crap tonight and the GM ought to be livid with the effort and attitude.
But then again maybe the players are letting the GM know what they think of their 3-time All-Star closer being dealt for “the future.”
As for the future, Taillon has the poise, the command and the talent.

J Nader

Were they also “letting the GM know what they think” the night before he was traded, when they scored 1 run of a 31 year old rookie?

Or the rest of the season before that, where they have been struggling to stay above .500 most of the year?

The reality is, with Kang struggling, Cutch having a subpar year, and the rotation being what it is, they just aren’t very good

Thomas F

Andrew McCutchen and Francisco Liriano let the GM know what to do by hitting .240 and pitching to a 5.4 ERA. They can look squarely in the mirror to see why their buddy got traded

michael schalke

No question about it. If they were playing up to expectations the Bucs would be contending for the division.



Matthew R

So would Hearn slide in somewhere around Dovydas Neverauskas on the Top 50?


He’s the 28th rated prospect in the PIrates system according to MLB.


I like this deal as well. I’m also hoping this team pulls of one more trade for a decent starter. I guess we’ll see what happens.


Polanco and Marte have the baseball IQ of a turnip!

Bruce Humbert



Vai a vite la vostra auto si pane torta Blackie!

michael t

Clint looks like he’s going to cry in the dugout. Not chomping, not animated. I think the deadline wears on everybody in baseball, and it’s the same in hockey. Melancon was a leader, so were Burnett and Walker.


Maybe it was Marte getting thrown out twice at 3B, or Polanco swinging at a 3-0 pitch leading off the 6th and the team down 2-1. Another Quality Start for Jameson Taillon.

michael t

What a bad read and effort by Polanco on scooter’s dink hit with two outs. The ball should have been caught.


this works for me,also the pirates should never put them selves in a position where 10% of there payroll goes to a 65-70 inning pitcher.

Scott Kliesen

I would’ve liked this deal a whole lot more if they forced Nats to take Jaso. At least then we could see Bell in the lineup.


It only makes sense to move jaso this weekend. We have so much bench depth he’s not needed.

michael t

ah but ‘we love the bat, the ability to work the pitcher.”


I think the deal is ok, like many people have mentioned, and the article mentioned as well, I was impressed by Riveros’ stuff when the Bucks faced him in Washington, wish the second player was in AA and not in the low minors, but there’s talent there. I just wished Caminero steps up and claim a higher leverage spot by this time next year.


Taylor Hearn missed half of the season due to a foot injury and will probably see the rest of the year with the WV Power. He could be a steal for the Pirates. I like Rivero a lot and think the trade was definitely a plus for both sides. He fills the void that has existed since Justin Wilson was traded before the 2015 season, and may be a Closer in training.

Looks like the Pirates are trying to mail in another game – gotta like that 1,2,3 in the first going K, K, K. The Brewers are playing all the no-names, but they really seem to want it.


Boy, did you nail that one right on the head. Very poor performance yesterday. And, Cutch back to another oh-fer.


Hearn is the 27th best prospect in the Nats system. It’s a complete longshot that he does anything to help the pirates at all


I love this deal. Good work NH!


I despise this deal. Chapman set the market and the Pirates came in way below market value. And on top of it all, theyve made their playoff competition better


pollyanna in the house

Robert A Bishop

more like depressive realism…


shhh! we have a weak post all-star game schedule.
did you forget. get a cup pass the kool-aid and hope enough goes around.

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