There's little denying that the Red Sox need all sorts of help as the trade deadline approaches. Their playoff hopes have all but disappeared, and Ben Cherington would be bold indeed to give up anything of substance for a second-half run that now looks improbable at best.
Much of the trade speculation surrounding Boston this season has focused on the likes of Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto. The Red Sox have little in the way of quality starting pitching, and with Clay Buchholz sidelined, the club now lacks a pitcher who was performing about as well as anyone in the American League before getting injured.
Yet the Red Sox aren't in the position to deal meaningful pieces for a potential two-month rental in Cueto. And while Hamels has three years (and a team option) remaining on his contract, he hasn't exactly pitched like a top-of-the-rotation arm of late. What the Phillies expect to get in return for their prized southpaw makes any trade for Hamels a difficult proposition anyhow.
Moreover, adding a starter at this point wouldn't exactly solve all the issues that have cropped up throughout the Red Sox roster. Boston's bullpen struggles have added another dimension to the widespread problems that have sent the team tumbling down into the AL East basement. Outside of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, John Farrell has little in the way of dependable relief options to call upon late in games.
Even though their 2015 hopes may be over, the Red Sox find themselves in a position similar to last season, where they're not looking to sell and rebuild but rather reload for next year. As a result, Cherington shouldn't hesitate to add a difference-making reliever if the opportunity arises.
The one player who fits the bill is Aroldis Chapman.
With the Reds going nowhere and likely to sell off a few major pieces before the deadline, Chapman could certainly be had for the right price. Considering the Cuban native has one year of arbitration remaining, he would be a big addition for Boston in 2016.
Chapman is unlike any other reliever in baseball, and his production has been among the game's elite for four straight seasons now. In 40 appearances as Cincinnati's closer this year, he has posted a 1.56 ERA and 1.52 FIP and struck out nearly two batters per inning. The left-hander remains the hardest-throwing pitcher in the game by a wide margin. According to the StatCast leaderboards, he's recorded the 50 fastest individual pitches in baseball this season.
Dating back to the start of 2012, Chapman has compiled an ERA+ of 202 and struck out over four times as many batters as he's walked.
Although spending big on relief pitching is often foolish, Chapman is the kind of reliever who is an exception to the rule. He's a pitcher who can make a huge difference even just by pitching in one-inning spurts, and one can only imagine the type of dominant late-game pairing he would form with Uehara.
The growing influence of relief pitching should make the bullpen a priority for Cherington prior to the deadline and during this offseason anyhow. Starters no longer pitch as many innings as they did even five years ago, which has allowed a number of teams to gain an advantage by amassing a crop of strong relievers.
One need only look at the Yankees, who have ridden the hard-throwing combination of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, as an example of how much influence dominant relievers can have. The Royals, too, have built much of their success over the past two seasons on a bullpen that rarely ever coughs up late leads.
Chapman fits right into this mold, and he's the sort of reliever who can shorten games for a team. He's also about as dependable as relief pitchers come. Since his first full major league campaign in 2011, Chapman has made at least 54 appearances every year and is on pace to appear in over 60 contests this season. Given his velocity and performance in 2015, one could argue that the southpaw is at his absolute peak.
The Red Sox, for their part, can afford to pay the type of hefty salary that Chapman will command during his final year of arbitration next winter. The 27-year-old is just the kind of elite reliever worth paying up for. With the impending departures of Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, they'll have plenty of money coming off the books next offseason anyways.
Whether Cherington can actually strike a deal for Chapman is the biggest question. The Reds might decide to hang onto him for one last season, though they'd certainly part with him for the right price. That price could prove a little too costly for Boston, but adding a perennial All-Star to the bullpen would solve a lot of problems for the Red Sox as they seek to re-balance their roster for another offseason makeover.
Like any other trade target, Chapman wouldn't solve all the issues plaguing the Red Sox. Nevertheless, he'd go a long way toward giving the club a late-game advantage it has lacked all season.