There have been plenty of rumors involving the Washington Nationals as the July 31st non-waiver Trade Deadline approaches, and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo has heard the chatter.
One report after another says the Nationals are in the market for relief help. So are they looking for a set-up man? An eighth-inning option?
"That seems to be the popular opinion," Rizzo joked in an MLB Network Radio interview this week.
"That our bullpen needs more depth, although, going into last night's game, I think we had the 9th best [bullpen] ERA in the major leagues, so they've performed admirably, and they've gotten better as the season progressed."
As of this morning, the Nationals' have the ninth-lowest ERA in the National League (3.43) and the 14th lowest league-wide.
The Nationals changed things up in the bullpen fairly dramatically this winter, dealing Tyler Clippard, Ross Detwiler and Jerry Blevins and allowing Rafael Soriano to walk as a free agent.
Replacing the veteran relievers were a number of power arms, and the Nats have supplemented with prospects.
Rizzo said that over the course of the first half of the season, the arms they've assembled have grown into their roles.
"We went from more of a finesse bullpen last year to a power bullpen this year. Young power arms. We've got Felipe Rivero throwing 95-98 and [Aaron] Barrett and [Blake] Treinen and those guys and we tried to supplement that with a Casey Janssen, a veteran presence towards the back of the game, so we like our bullpen as it is."
"We're a good team," Rizzo said.
"We like our team, we're not a perfect team and if we can do a deal in any aspect of our ballclub to help us, we certainly are going to look into it, and as I've said, we've done it in the past, we're not afraid to pull the trigger and we've got a supportive ownership group so if it fits we'll be aggressive."
The question, of course, is what it will cost to acquire a player that could significantly improve the Nationals' bullpen?
One name that has come up repeatedly as a person of interest is Reds' closer Aroldis Chapman, the hard-throwing, 27-year-old left-hander with the intimidating 100 mph-plus fastball and well-nigh unhittable slider.
But what would Chapman, who has another year of team control left in 2016, cost?
FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, mentioning the Nationals' rumored interest in Chapman, reported last night that the Cincinnati Reds had "two officials" in Vermont, where the Nationals' 2014 1st Round pick Erick Fedde was on the mound for the Auburn Doubledays:
Two #Reds officials are watching #Nationals Class A RHP Erick Fedde tonight in Vermont.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 24, 2015
Fedde was #Nationals’ first-round draft pick in 2014, 18th overall. Nats have expressed interest in #Reds closer Aroldis Chapman.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 24, 2015
Rizzo described Fedde, after he was drafted 18th overall, as "a Top 10 guy and possibly even higher than that," and Nats' Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Operations Kris Kline said he saw the UNLV right-hander as "a Top 5-type guy" before he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in his draft year.
Back on the mound a year later, Fedde, who was ranked fourth overall on Baseball America's list of the Nationals' Top 10 prospects before this season, is pitching like he did before Tommy John, with a 2.88 ERA, six walks (2.16 walks per nine) and 31 Ks (11.16 strikeouts per nine) in 25 innings.
Other reports have suggested a package of Wilmer Difo, the top infield prospect before the Nationals acquired Trea Turner this winter, and Reynaldo Lopez, the second-highest ranked right-hander in the organization behind Lucas Giolito, might get a deal for a reliever done, whether it's Chapman or another option like San Diego Padres' closer Craig Kimbrel.
The Nationals, Rizzo explained, have to weigh just how much a legitimate late-inning option will help and if the cost in prospects is worth it?
"We like our team," Rizzo told the MLB Network Radio hosts, "we think it's an impactful team that has a chance to go deep in the playoffs as is.
"We're not a perfect team, so we have to figure out what our flaws are, and what the risk/reward is to go out and make an acquisition that helps us not only for 2015 and the stretch run, but for beyond and what are the repercussions for trading away good young players to fill a hole this year, what are the chances of winning with that player, so a lot of things go into the decision."
"We've got a lot of good people here that are a lot smarter than I am that help me with these decisions and we're certainly going to be actively looking, but I don't know how aggressive we're going to be in the market place."
Guest blogger Patrick Reddington of @federalbaseball wonders if a big trade is worth cost of prospects: http://t.co/h9oXKpCNAp— MASN Nationals (@masnNationals) July 24, 2015
For what it's worth, when it comes to the Chapman rumors, Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell shot the idea down to some extent in a recent chat with readers, writing that he didn't see the Nationals and Reds as a fit:
"One note about the Nats and the quest for Aroldis Chapman: the [Nats] don't have the trades pieces the Reds want -- a BIG BAT for the outfield. They don't want pitchers or middle infielders. I talked to knowledgeable people when I was in Cincy and it would shock them if the Nats were a "fit" for a Chapman trade -- if sure a trade is even made. (Sorry about that, folks.)"
Boswell's suggestion? "Talk about [Tyler] Clippard or one of the other candidates."
One AL exec's description of the #Reds price tag on Aroldis Chapman: "Exorbitant." Other clubs not sure the owner wants to move him— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 24, 2015