By Jared Lankes
In 2016 at trade deadline time, the Pirates were, for lack of a better term, a fringe contending team. This lead to some tough decision-making on the part of the Pirates as to whether to sell-off and go for next year or trade pieces to propel the team to the playoffs. In the end, the Pirates did a little bit of both. One of the tough trades made was the Mark Melancon trade. The Pirates sent two months of closer Mark Melancon for 5+ years of lefty reliever Felipe Rivero and big-arm lefty pitching prospect Taylor Hearn. The trade was highly scrutinized and criticized at the time because there were no “big-name prospects” coming back like Giolito, Lopez, Fedde, or Lopez, but looking back at the trade now, it’s easy to see that the Pirates got immense value back in the trade and actually even won the trade by a landslide.
Firstly, we’ll start with Taylor Hearn. The consensus on Hearn is that he has a huge arm but needs work on control, like many youngsters in his situation. Before some circumstances in the Nationals organization, the left-hander was a rising prospect through a deep Nationals system. He came into the Pirates organization and was flat-out dominant, asserting himself once again as a breakout prospect to watch. He could easily be a top prospect in the Pirates organization very soon; sooner than we think, in fact.
Now, to Rivero. Felipe Rivero is a lefty reliever with dominant stuff that people salivate over. He was, at one point, a projected option for the Nationals at closer. But instead the Nationals wanted to go experience to try to compete with the Cubs in the postseason, so they shipped him off to the Pirates and took the chance on losing him, even if he ends up being a top reliever and reaches his ceiling. Now, what makes Rivero so popular and coveted is his mix of pitches. He has a big-time fastball that sits 98-100 MPH, a fastball that ranks as the second fastest among lefties in the league (of course Chapman is first and we cannot dispute it). Then, he has a devastating changeup to boot. This changeup has been raved about by many to be one of the most dominant pitches in the entire league. This mixture of pitches from a lefty is absolutely insane, and it’s no wonder why people salivate over this arsenal he has. Also, as a side note, Rivero has the tools and the pitch arsenal that Ray Searage loves to work with, and we started to see the fruits of that partnership last year, and there’s no reason to think he will not continue to improve. I wouldn’t be shocked if Rivero became one of the best relief pitchers in the National League in a few short years or less.
Essentially, the Pirates traded two months of a closer that was bound to walk in free agency on a team unlikely to make the playoffs into 5+ years of a reliever with immense talent and only getting better, as well as a rising pitching prospect with a huge arm that can end up reaching his limit with some refinement. When you re-visit the results of this trade, the Pirates did not get a top-of-the-line prospect or a big name back in return. However, they got two guys that carry with them a vast amount of talent and value, and the Pirates have the necessary tools and systems that can maximize each guys’ value and help them reach their ceilings. I say that this was a very good deal for the Pirates.