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Sox get relief in deal

Melancon costs Lowrie, Weiland

MARK MELANCON 20 saves in 2010 MARK MELANCON 20 saves in 2010
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / December 15, 2011
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Ben Cherington’s first major trade since taking over for Theo Epstein as general manager of the Red Sox focused on a much-needed piece, the future closer.

Mark Melancon, once considered Mariano Rivera’s successor in the Yankees’ organization, was acquired yesterday from the Houston Astros for infielder Jed Lowrie and righthander Kyle Weiland.

Melancon, who has a big-time arm and became Houston’s closer last season, will be in the mix to be Boston’s closer this season, which would be a modest leap of faith as he would be replacing Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Phillies last month.

Melancon, 26, threw 1,121 pitches last season, opponents hitting .234. Off his 461 fastballs, they hit .317, off his 299 curveballs, they only hit .138, and off his 260 cutters they hit .200.

Melancon went 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and had 20 saves in 74 1/3 innings last season, striking out 66 and walking 26. He became the closer out of spring training after Brandon Lyon went down with a rotator cuff injury.

“He’s got great makeup,’’ said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who drafted Melancon.

Melancon (pronounced Muh-lansen) was a ninth-round pick in 2006, but appeared in 15 games for the Yankees, in 2009 and ’10. He was dealt to the Astros along with third baseman Jimmy Paredes for Lance Berkman at the July 31, 2010, trade deadline.

Asked whether he thought Melancon, who had Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2007, could be a closer in the American League East, Cashman said, “He has the ability.’’

The New York Times once asked Melancon about the possibility of one day replacing Rivera. Melancon responded, “It’s not overwhelming because it’s not true unless I make it true. I think it’s able to be done. I’m excited for that. I’m excited people are thinking that’s out there. But I know it’s not true unless I make it true.’’

The Red Sox finally gave up on Lowrie, with whom Astros manager, and former Sox bench coach, Brad Mills is familiar. Lowrie, who played second, shortstop and third base for the Sox, will start at shortstop for the Astros, according to Mills. Lowrie became undependable as injuries mounted, and he was never able to shake them off and play consistently enough for former manager Terry Francona.

The Astros believe Lowrie, a switch-hitter who is better against lefthanders, can provide an upgrade, especially offensively.

“For me it’s about playing and that’s always what I’ve wanted,’’ Lowrie told the Associated Press. “Hopefully, I get that opportunity in Houston.’’

The Red Sox, according to team sources, didn’t want to bring Lowrie back after giving him the chance to be an everyday shortstop last season. The Sox found that Lowrie had limited range at shortstop, and wasn’t as surehanded at shortstop or third base as they thought. To fill Lowrie’s utility role, the Sox agreed to terms with free agent infielder Nick Punto on a one-year contract, according to a major league source. Punto, 34, played for the World Series champion Cardinals last season. He played seven seasons for the Twins after coming up with the Phillies.

Weiland was put in an unenviable position late last season of having to make key starts when the Sox’ pitching staff began to crumble. The 25-year-old former Notre Dame closer had a very good Triple A season, and his repertoire should transfer well to the National League, where it appears he will get a chance to be a part of Houston’s rotation. Weiland went 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in seven appearances (five starts) for the Sox last season. Three of those starts came in September.

The Red Sox had been discussing a deal for Oakland reliever Andrew Bailey, and had dialogue with agent Scott Boras regarding Phillies free agent Ryan Madson. But the trade talk with Oakland had reached a point where the Sox were uncomfortable with the A’s asking price, according to one league source.

The Red Sox have asked Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves to prepare to be starters this season. The Sox could always go to Bard as the closer. The team also expects that former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks will be part of the mix at the end of the bullpen, despite the fact he had an injury-plagued 2010. Jenks recently underwent minor back surgery, but is expected to be able to compete in spring training. The Sox also re-signed righthander Matt Albers, who started well last season and failed miserably in the second half. They also have lefthander Franklin Morales, who throws 95 miles per hour and has had a very good season in winter ball. Situational lefthander Rich Hill, who underwent Tommy John surgery, could be re-signed.

The deal was the first for new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow. It was met with some surprise since the focus of the organization before Luhnow arrived was to move money. The “money’’ players include first baseman/outfielder Carlos Lee, and pitchers Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers.

Cherington said the Red Sox did not put in a bid for pitcher Yu Darvish, the 6-foot-5-inch, 25-year-old Japanese sensation. He also said the team hired trainer Rick Jameyson from the Indians and will retain Mike Reinold.

Chad Finn of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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