In the days leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Houston Astros and Cincinnati Reds discussed a blockbuster deal that would have sent both Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman to the Astros.

Imagine how different the 2015 postseason might have been had the trade gone down.

Remember, in Game 4 of the division series, the Astros had a 6-2 eighth-inning lead with a chance to eliminate the Kansas City Royals. The play everyone will remember is the two-run Carlos Correa error that tied the game, but three Astros relievers allowed five hits and two walks in the five-run inning.

And, of course, Cueto went on to beat the Astros in Game 5.

There’s no way to replay any of that now, not the trade deadline, and certainly not Game 4 or Game 5. But the Astros still could get Chapman—and Cueto, for that matter.

Cueto, a free agent, will be one of the prizes on offer when baseball officials convene for the MLB winter meetings next week in Nashville, Tennessee. Chapman, not a free agent but still very available on the trade market, will be the must-have prize at the meetings, as named today by Bleacher Report.

There were plenty of other possible choices. David Price would have topped the list if he hadn’t agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox this week. Zack Greinke could have topped the list, but reports (including this one from Ken Rosenthal) suggest he could choose a team before the meetings, too.

Atlanta Braves pitcher Shelby Miller got consideration because of the trade buzz generated this week (one source said Thursday that Miller to the Chicago Cubs “has legs”). Miller would be a nice prize, but with all the pitchers available, he’s hardly must-have material. Oakland A’s starter Sonny Gray and Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale would be must-have, but at least so far, their teams are saying other teams can’t have them.

We could have picked any of the free-agent outfielders, but the slow-moving market suggests no one yet considers them must-have.

So we went with Chapman, because while other closers (Craig Kimbrel, Francisco Rodriguez) have already been traded this winter, and while Darren O’Day is attracting big interest on the free-agent market, no reliever out there is as big a game-changer as Chapman.

The Red Sox and Detroit Tigers decided the Reds are asking too much for him, just as the Astros eventually decided in July (according to sources). Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that Cincinnati wanted more for Chapman than the high price the Red Sox paid the Padres for Kimbrel.

But the Reds are rebuilding, Chapman is a year from free agency, and it makes all the sense in the world for Cincinnati to trade him. As C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer tweeted when someone asked where he saw Chapman going:

Assuming the Reds don’t complete a deal in the next two days, Chapman’s name will be heard through every hallway and lobby in the massive Opryland Resort. In fact, the only excuse for not getting a trade done would be that the two general managers couldn’t find each other to shake hands on the deal.

The Astros remain a possible trade partner, with a source saying owner Jim Crane “loves” Chapman. The Arizona Diamondbacks were also deep in Chapman talks in July, but a source said Thursday “that ship has sailed,” with talks never restarting.

The Washington Nationals are an interesting possibility, even as they try to trade Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen, the two closers already on their roster. Jon Heyman of reported last week that the Los Angeles Dodgers have talked to the Reds about Chapman, and Bleacher Report colleague Anthony Witrado wrote how Chapman could make sense there even for a team that already employs Kenley Jansen.

That’s the thing about Chapman. He’s so good that he can be a useful addition even for a team that already has a good closer, especially in an era where the Royals have proved the value of multiple strong late-inning options.

The New York Yankees had that idea last July, when they spoke to the Reds about Chapman even though they already had Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. Chapman could still make sense for the Yankees, especially if they use Miller to trade for a starting pitcher (according to a source, they spoke to the Astros about a Miller deal).

Chapman is still young (he’ll turn 28 in February), and he still throws as hard as ever. had to include a “Chapman filter” for its statcast list of the fastest pitches thrown this season, because otherwise the 50-pitch list would include no one else.

His average fastball in 2015: a nice, round 100.0 mph.

Chapman also has a devastating slider, and by the end of the season he was mixing in a changeup (90 mph). According to, batters swung and missed at the fastball 20.23 percent of the time this season (and swung and missed at his other two pitches even more frequently).

Chapman misses bats as well as anyone who has ever pitched. His 15.4 strikeouts per nine innings is the best ever for a pitcher with at least 300 career innings, according to research through‘s Play Index (Kimbrel, at 14.55, and Jansen, at 13.98, rank second and third on the list).

He’s durable and dependable. The Reds were able to use him three days in a row, and they were able to use him for more than three outs if needed.

If they weren’t in rebuilding mode, they wouldn’t be trading him. But they are rebuilding, with Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce also available if someone meets the asking price. They’d both be nice players to have, but they’re not Chapman.

Chapman is baseball’s must-have prize.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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