Along with almost half the league, the Washington Nationals were linked to Aroldis Chapman last month. As far back as June 13, it was reported that the Nats had inquired about the flamethrowing Cuban lefty. Of course, inquiring about a player could be nothing more than GM Mike Rizzo doing his due diligence. At least a half dozen teams were said to have inquired about Chapman, who would be a good fit on about twenty teams.... not all of whom are necessarily in contention this season. Chapman has another year's worth of club control remaining, and could even be a good fit on a team that's trying to stock up for a run in 2016. Save for the handful of teams that look like they're at least two or three years away from contending, everyone should have at least asked Reds GM Walt Jocketty what the price might look like for a pitcher like Chapman.
Why could the Nationals use him?
Aroldis Chapman may not be the best reliever in the majors, but he's awfully close. Since reaching the majors in his first pro season in 2010, Chapman's 2.21 ERA ranks ninth among relief pitchers. His 1.91 FIP ranks third. His absurd 15.42 K/9 ranks first. Chapman's 10.6 fWAR and 9.9 rWAR rank second behind another potential trade target, Craig Kimbrel.
Chapman dominates primarily due to his extreme velocity. Per Pitchf/x, Chapman's average fastball velocity this season has been 99.5 MPH. His fastball has topped off at 103.9 MPH, and he routinely throws his heater in the triple digits. It's complemented by a hard slider that averages 87 MPH and occasionally touches the low 90s and a changeup that averages 88 MPH.
On top of the outstanding numbers and ridiculous velocity above, Chapman throws left-handed. A pitcher with his stuff isn't someone that you necessarily worry about the platoon advantage with much, but he's pretty much automatic against left-handers. Over the course of his career, LHH have hit a whopping .123/.237/.157 against Chapman, good for just a .197 wOBA. Right-handed hitters don't pick him up particularly well either, but they're more successful (.161/.275/.249, .247 wOBA). It's rare to see left-handed pitchers even touch the high 90s, so a pitcher who can bring it at 103 MPH is tough on everyone.
How would the Nationals use him?
As terrific as Drew Storen has been this season, it's difficult to picture the Nats trading for Chapman to make him a middle reliever. The cost (we'll speculate a bit below) to acquire him would probably be so prohibitive that it would be difficult to justify paying it if he didn't take over as the primary closer. All of that said, those of you who have read anything that I've written over the past six years at Federal Baseball know that I hate pigeonholing guys into set roles.
Simply put, adding another dominant arm to the bullpen is the goal here. Having two guys like Chapman and Storen who have shown an aptitude for shutting the door in the ninth inning would be a net positive, even if it's possible that scenario would cut into one (or both) of their save totals. This may upset Storen (or Chapman) a bit, but the Nats goal is to strengthen their bullpen, not placate their players so that they have a stronger argument when arbitration rolls around this winter.
Being able to turn to Storen (or Chapman) in the seventh or eighth inning in a high leverage situation would be a massive upgrade over the current bridge that the Nats have between the starters and the closer. If they burn Chapman to get a couple of big lefties in the seventh inning, Storen's still there to shut the door in the ninth... and vice versa. Having two absolutely dominant relievers that Matt Williams could turn to would make his job easier... and probably lead to a lot less criticism from armchair managers (like myself).
Does he have any weaknesses?
He walks more than his fair share of hitters. Over the course of his career, Chapman has a 4.39 BB/9 rate. It's been a tad worse this season (4.69), and has been 4.00 or higher in each of the past three seasons.
What's his contract status?
Chapman is making $8.05 million in 2015, so the Nats would be on the hook for a little under $4 million the rest of the way. He has one year of arbitration remaining, which will likely end up in the $11 or $12 million range. Chapman is eligible for free agency after the 2016 season.
What will the Reds be looking for?
The Reds appear to be ready to undergo a pretty massive overhaul. Ace Johnny Cueto (a free agent at year's end) seems to be one of the biggest names on the free agent market, and they've made it publicly known that they're shopping Jay Bruce, a quality power-hitting corner outfielder in the prime of his career with two extremely reasonable years remaining on his deal. Simply put, it seems unlikely that the Reds would be shopping a player (or a contract) like Bruce unless GM Walt Jocketty thinks they won't be ready to contend by the end of that deal.
This means that they're likely in the market for talent (general) more than being focused on acquiring prospects at specific positions. With Joey Votto signed forever and Todd Frazier (who is actually a year older than Bruce) looking like the next player they plan to build around, it might be a safe bet that they're not too focused on the corner infield, but that doesn't mean that they're likely to devalue a corner infield prospect that much.
In terms of talent, the Reds are probably looking for two Top 100 prospects who are close to the majors for Chapman. As great as he is, a year and a half of a dominant reliever almost certainly isn't worth that, but the trade deadline revolves around supply and demand. As mentioned at the top, there figures to be quite a bit of demand for Chapman's services. While that cost they're seeking may be a bit unreasonable, it wouldn't be all that shocking if the Reds find someone who will pay it.
What could/should the Nats offer?
Honestly, any prospect not named Lucas Giolito, Trea Turner, or Joe Ross should be in play if they make a run at Chapman. Chapman should get pretty close to his expected free agent value in his final year of arbitration next year, so we're talking about an expensive year and a half of a dominant reliever. There's a ton of value here, but from a financial perspective, Chapman isn't likely to bring much, if any, surplus value. In order for the Nats to give up any of their top three prospects, I think they'd have to be looking at getting surplus value (financially) in the deal somehow.
I'd imagine that the Nats would try and center something around Wilmer Difo and a pitching prospect if they really do go after Chapman. There are a handful of pitching prospects that would almost certainly be of interest to Cincinnati. I would imagine A.J. Cole or Reynaldo Lopez would be the most likely names to be in the conversation. Cole would give them a big league ready asset that they'd control for six (well... seven) years. Lopez has a little more upside, but needs a little more time to develop. Either could be a member of the Reds rotation by the time they figure to be ready to contend again. Difo could give them a nice young power/speed middle infielder who doesn't look to be too far away from contributing and should be around the next time they're ready to contend.
Will the Nats trade for Aroldis Chapman?
It seems unlikely, but if they're going to go for it in 2015, then go for it... Don't settle for a guy like John Axford. Chapman and Storen would give the Nats a dominant 1-2 punch at the back of the bullpen.