Melancon, Punto and Shoppach are headed to Fenway

Acquiring Mark Melancon helps solidify the Boston Red Sox bullpen. (Getty Images)

Ben Cherington was busy last week. The new Boston GM made his first series of moves in an effort to put his stamp on the Red Sox roster. During just two days, he made three separate moves.

In his first trade, Cherington acquired Mark Melancon from the Houston Astros. In exchange, he gave up Jed Lowrie and prospect Kyle Weiland.

The right-handed Melancon will serve in some capacity out of Boston’s bullpen. In closing for the ‘Stros, he earned 20 saves in 25 opportunities. Not bad for a team that only managed 56 victories last season.

Early indications are that Melancon probably won’t be Jonathan Papelbon’s replacement. Barring Brad Lidge’s injury he may not have even been the ninth-inning guy in Houston. Chances are they’ll still look to grab another arm to close out games. Ryan Madson is still available on the free agent market, and A’s closer Andrew Bailey is rumored to be available. I wonder if Billy Beane is still enamored with Kevin Youkilis.

Instead, look for Melancon to pitch in the seventh and eighth, perhaps seeing fill-in closer duty; especially with a potential move to the rotation for Daniel Bard. His mid-90s fastball will be a welcome addition to a relief corps that struggled down the stretch last year. Pairing him with a healthy Bobby Jenks should make a formidable bridge to the eventual closer.

The price for such a talented young arm seems rather modest. Utility infielder Lowrie has struggled with injuries and projected to do nothing more than back-up Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia. He may end up as the starting SS on a thinner ‘Stros roster. Weiland was expendable, as well. He has fallen down the Sox prospect list with names like Anthony Ranaudo and Drake Britton climbing through the system.

Not much time was wasted on finding Lowie’s replacement. Veteran Nick Punto will join the club after signing a two-year deal worth $3 million. He’ll provide defensive prowess up the middle coming off the bench. He lacks the potential power of Lowrie but scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem in this lineup.

Cherington wasn’t done there. He grabbed catcher Kelly Shoppach, too. I’ve got to admit, this one is a head-scratcher. Bringing back a former Sox prospect who couldn’t hit the broad side of barn last year doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the starting backstop job well in hand. The switch-hitting Salty does struggle against southpaws, so Shoppach may offer some value there with a .274 career BA against lefties. Shoppach also was hell on base stealers last year, preventing thefts about 40 percent of the time.

Brining on Shoppach practically eliminates any chance of re-signing long-time catcher and Sox captain, Jason Varitek. After almost 1,500 games, Varitek’s playing days in Boston appear to be at an end. Cherington and company seem to still think highly of him so don’t be surprised if ends up filling some kind of coaching position on the club in the not-so-distant future.

The addition of Shoppach may not ring well for Ryan Lavarnway either. The former Yale Bulldog was expected enter spring training with a shot at taking the backup job. If he keeps slugging the ball like he did last season, I don’t think the Sox can afford to let Shoppach stand in his way.

Perhaps this is a new regime for Boston and we may not see one of those big-splash moves Boston fans became so accustomed to under Theo Epstein. Cherington may have to be a bit more creative. Mammoth contracts for guys like Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and John Lackey have the Sox dangerously close to exceeding the luxury tax limit, so perhaps the free-wheeling spending days have come to end.

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