Originally written on Fantasy Baseball Dugout  |  Last updated 12/19/11

SOX SWAP: Jed Lowrie and Mark Melancon swap laundry.

The Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox made a trade last week that sent Astros’ closer Mark Melancon to the Red Sox in exchange for infielder Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

Who Will Nab Red Sox Closer Role?

Mark Melancon had 20 saves for Houston this year, going 8-4 with a 2.78 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 71 relief outings during his first full major league season.  He was the Astros closer for the final five months of the season.  Melancon is not your typical high heat closer as his best pitch is his curve ball.

It remains to be seen as to where Melancon fits in the Boston plans.  He could be a setup man or he could be an insurance policy if the Sox don’t pick up the A’s Andrew Bailey in a trade or sign free agent Ryan Madson from the Phillies.  If Madson signs with the Red Sox, it will simply be a closer swap between Philadelphia and Boston as Jonathan Papelbon is now in that role with the Phillies.  Depending on what happens with the closer role, the Red Sox may choose to move Daniel Bard into a starting role.

If Melancon is going to be the closer, Red Sox GM Ben Cherrington is certainly not letting on.  “We believe he’s definitely capable of closing and capable of pitching in the ninth inning for us,” Cherington said. “But those are questions for Bobby [Valentine], with help from his pitching coach, during spring training to answer and figure out the right roles for everyone.”

Fantasy Baseball Projection 2012: Mark Melancon — Obviously, Melancon’s value depends on whether he is indeed going to be the closer in Boston or not.  Set up guys get no respect in fantasy baseball so we’ll wait and see what Melancon’s ultimate value is.

Jed Lowrie – Sleeper Pick for 2012

HIGH FIVE: Jed Lowrie is our first fantasy baseball sleeper for 2012.

Lowrie, 27, has been plagued with a series of injuries that have put him on the DL at least once over each of the last three seasons.  A healthy Lowrie that is given the chance to play every day in 2012 would make him a solid infield sleeper product, especially since Lowrie played all four infield positions last year.

He’s a switch hitter, but does not hit well from the left side.  Over the past three years, he’s at .209 versus righties and .322 versus lefties.  Makes you wonder if he should be going both ways at all.

“For me it’s about playing, and that’s always what I’ve wanted,” Lowrie said. “Hopefully, I get that opportunity in Houston.”

On a team that is struggling for veteran leadership, the career .252 hitter Lowrie will likely get that chance.

Fantasy Baseball Projection 2012: Jed Lowrie — Jed Lowrie could have a breakout year in 2012.  For a young guy, he’s had his share of injuries already.  He’ll be given the chance to play every day in Houston for the first time in his career and will be tutored on how to hit better from the port side.  Lowrie is our first sleeper named for the 2012 season.  With less pressure to produce in Houston, we think Lowrie will be a .265 hitter with 12 home runs.  He’s not much a base stealing threat at all, but his ability to play all four infield positions make him a late round pick in deep mixed leagues or National League only leagues.

Kyle Weiland Role with Astros

Kyle Weiland appears to be the throw-in to the deal.  Weiland spent most of last year in the minors, but did get called up and got shelled to the tune of a 03 record and 7.66 ERA.  He will be given a chance to earn a spot in the Astros’ starting rotation for 2012.

Fantasy Baseball Projection 2012: Kyle Weiland — Kyle Weiland is currently a long shot to participate on any fantasy baseball roster for 2012.

Astros Closer Role

With Melancon gone, the Astros do not have a clear cut closer for the 2012 season.  Brandon Lyon was their guy, but lost the job in May after an injury and struggling mightily.  Lyon has experience as a closer, but he’ll be in the last year of his contract in 2012 so it would likely follow the formula that any coveted experienced player would be traded for stockpiling two young players in return as the Astros did in this deal.

The closer role for Houston last year was nothing short of a disaster.  The Astros had 25 blown saves, third largest in the MLB, in 50 games!

If Lyon is not the guy or he is dealt for prospects, Wilton Lopez is a guy who could step into that role for 2012.  Another possibility is converted catcher, David Carpenter who can hit 95 MPH.

Another possibility is right-hander Juan Abreu, acquired from the Braves in last summer’s Michael Bourn trade.  He struck out 12 batters in 6 2/3 innings in his Major League debut last season and has been clocked at 99 MPH.

A final possibility is hard-throwing Rhiner Cruz who was acquired in the Rule 5 Draft earlier this month. He hit 98 mph last spring, but has struggled to control his pitches. He walked 39 batters and struck out 51 in 58 2/3 innings last year at Double-A Binghamton for the Mets.

Fantasy Baseball Projection 2012:  Brandon Lyon — It’s a wait and see game for Brandon Lyon as the Astros’ closer.  It is likely that Lyon will open the season as the Astros closer, but be dealt by June.

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