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Given the events of the past week, it's hardly a surprise to see that Jonathan Papelbon's days as the Nationals' closer are over. Having acquired Mark Melancon from the Pirates on Saturday, one of the majors' steadiest closers will ply his craft in the Nation's Capital.
After leading all relief-eligible pitchers in Fantasy points a year ago, Melancon currently ranks fourth among closers and sixth among all RP-eligible pitchers. Melancon is unique among the top Fantasy relievers in that he is merely an average strikeout pitcher, but superb control, a strong aversion to home runs and a wealth of save opportunities have gone a long way towards making him a coveted Fantasy reliever.
The Nationals (4.65 runs per game) have been only slightly more robust as a run-scoring team than the Pirates (4.61 runs per game), but somehow, they've offered their closers far fewer save chances this season. While Papelbon, Shawn Kelley and company have had 37 save opportunities, the Pirates have had 46. There isn't any reason to think Melancon will be less effective as a National, but he may get fewer save chances and lose a slight amount of value. It's certainly not enough reason to try to sell high on him.
Papelbon's owners have probably been anticipating this day and seeking a replacement. Owners who were stashing Kelley as a potential successor to Papelbon can now set him loose if they need the roster spot to fill another need.
The biggest Fantasy implication, though, is who replaces Melancon as the Pirates' closer. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that set-up man Tony Watson will get the first shot. Given that Watson has been used steadily in the eighth inning and has been pitching exceedingly well over the past month-and-a-half, he should have a reasonably long leash. Should Watson falter or get injured, one-time Rangers closer Neftali Feliz would appear to be next in line.
Reliever Felipe Rivero is the sole major leaguer going to Pittsburgh in the deal. While he is unlikely to be considered for the Pirates' closer role this season, he should continue to be useful in leagues that reward holds. The Pirates also received Taylor Hearn, who is a 21-year-old lefty pitching in the Class A South Atlantic League. Hearn's fastball can hit the upper 90s, and he has fared well at Hagerstown, posting a 3.18 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings. Given that he is being used primarily as a reliever, Hearn is mainly a target for owners in deeper dynasty formats.