Ever since Jonathan Papelbon rode the free-agent money train (Choo-choo! $50 million!) down to Philadelphia, the Boston Red Sox have been looking for a new closer.
They might have their man after acquiring reliever Mark Melancon from the Houston Astros in exchange for infielder Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland.
Melancon appears to fit the profile of a closer for the Red Sox, having saved 20 games for Houston last season. Maybe that doesn't look like many saves, but Melancon only had 25 opportunities while pitching for the 56-win Astros.
Another factor likely important to the Red Sox is that their newest reliever has experience pitching in the AL East. Melancon came up through the New York Yankees organization. Although saying he has "experience" might be a stretch, as he only pitched 15 games for the Yanks.
The question is whether or not Melancon will actually step into the ninth-inning role for Boston. The Red Sox have shown interest in free agent Ryan Madson and made a push to trade for Oakland Athletics closer Andrew Bailey. All indications are that this move doesn't preclude GM Ben Cherington from bringing in someone else to be the closer.
If that were the case, Melancon could take over Daniel Bard's setup role. Promoting Bard to closer looked like a natural move after Papelbon's departure. But the Red Sox braintrust seems to have doubts he can fill that role after a terrible September (14 runs in 11 innings).
Additionally, Bard has voiced a preference to move to the starting rotation and new manager Bobby Valentine is willing to oblige with a spring training audition.
Regardless of what role the Red Sox choose for Melancon, they don't have to worry about losing him for a while. Not yet eligible for arbitration, Melancon is under club control for four more years. If he ends up being the closer, this could become quite a bargain for the Red Sox.
But let's not overlook the other team involved in the trade. Though Lowrie and Weiland really didn't have a place on Boston's roster (the Red Sox also signed free agent Nick Punto to take over Lowrie's utility infielder role), Houston picked up a likely starting shortstop and possible starting pitcher in the deal. That's a pretty nice first deal for new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow.