The Nationals like Aroldis Chapman. A lot.
Mike Rizzo tried to sign the closer out of Cuba in 2010, and even thought he had outbid every other franchise in the majors for him (until it turned out the Reds had done it instead).
Dusty Baker, of course, managed Chapman his first four seasons in the big leagues, continues to speak glowingly about the flame-throwing left-hander and was one of his staunchest supporters after the pitcher was suspended for domestic violence.
So the Nationals, to make it quite clear, would have done just about anything to acquire Chapman and make him their closer for the final two months of the regular season and (hopefully, in their minds) for another month of the postseason.
But “just about anything” isn’t the same as “anything.” And that’s why Chapman today is a Cub, not a Nat.
The Yankees’ final haul for Chapman - four players, including the Cubs’ top two prospects and an established big league pitcher in Adam Warren - was quite staggering. The Nationals simply weren’t going to match that for a rental reliever who would give them a total of maybe 35 innings of work before becoming a free agent next winter.
There’s no way to make a perfect comparison here, because one team’s best prospects don’t necessarily match up with another team’s best prospects, but here’s roughly what the Nats would have been forced to give up to get Chapman: Trea Turner, Austin Voth, Felipe Rivero and Victor Robles. Maybe that’s an overestimation, but probably not by a ton.
So if you’re Rizzo, do you make that deal? You most certainly do not.
Look, there is a time and a place to “go all-in” and mortgage the future for a better chance to win now. And the Nationals, more than they have been at any point during their time in D.C., are in a position to prioritize now over the future.
But common sense still has to prevail above all else. And if the price to acquire 35 innings of Aroldis Chapman is 23 combined years of control of four top prospects, common sense says you can’t pull that trigger if you’re the Nationals.
If you’re the Cubs, and you’re trying to snap a 108-year curse and you already have the most talent-laden big league and minor league roster in the sport, you perhaps throw a bit of common sense out the window. But if you’re the Nationals, you don’t.
That doesn’t, however, mean the Nats can just sit back and leave their bullpen as-is. There is no other available pitcher who can transform a roster the way Chapman could - not unless you believe the price isn’t going to be even more exorbitant for Andrew Miller or Wade Davis - but there are guys who can help make the Nationals’ relief corps better.
Jonathan Papelbon, for better or worse, is going to be part of this team’s bullpen the rest of the way. Probably as closer. Shawn Kelley and Rivero are going to hold significant roles. Some combination of Sammy Solis, Blake Treinen, Oliver Perez and Matt Belisle will figure into the mix. And perhaps some young guns like Lopez and/or Koda Glover will be given a chance to make a major impact down the stretch.
What if Rizzo is able to add another proven late-inning reliever to that corps, at a relatively minimal price? Someone who could pitch the seventh or eighth inning and be counted on to get big outs.
That seems like the kind of move we’re more likely to see this week than the blockbuster acquisition of a lights-out closer.
The Nationals bullpen, lest anyone forget, currently own a 2.98 ERA (tied with the Dodgers as the best in baseball). That group puts the fourth-fewest runners on base. It has issued the fourth-fewest walks. It has surrendered the second-fewest homers.
The Nationals bullpen is pretty good already. Could it be better? Sure. But unless you’re the type who is willing to give away four top prospects for two months of an elite closer, you may have to be satisfied with a more modest improvement.