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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Questioning the New York Yankees' Decision to Trade for Aroldis Chapman

As we head into a new year, the biggest story in baseball is the recent trade the New York Yankees made to obtain flame-throwing closer Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds. Typically, such a move would be all about a playoff-caliber team adding a lockdown hurler whose fastball routinely exceeds 100 MPH, and who strikes out batters at a historic rate. Instead, unresolved domestic abuse allegations raise serious questions as to whether the trade should have been made at all.

Before we get into it, let’s establish a couple of things. First, the 27-year-old lefty has been sensational on the mound since defecting from Cuba and joining the Reds in 2010. In six major league seasons, he has combined for a 2.17 ERA, 146 saves and a mind-blowing 546 strikeouts in 319 innings, while allowing just 169 hits. Adding him to a New York bullpen that already boasts power arms like Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances all but locks down the final three innings of games. It is a potentially historic bullpen.

Second, although Chapman has been accused of a domestic violence incident from earlier in the year, he has denied the bulk of the charges. Florida police declined to bring charges due to inconsistencies in witness statements, but Major League Baseball is still conducting its own internal investigation. Until then he has the right of the presumption of innocence.

While Chapman’s culpability has yet to be determined, the Yankees’ decision to trade for him is highly questionable. Clearly, the temptation to bring in a pitcher of his caliber, at what was admittedly a discounted price because of present circumstances, was a motivating factor. But, at what cost was this decision made?

Domestic violence is a scourge that continues to plague our society, with high-profile incidents popping up at an unfortunate rate among professional athletes. In the past couple of years, outraged responses to NFL stars Ray Rice and Greg Hardy receiving perceived light punishments for their own domestic abuse cases have dominated headlines. Professional football has continued to flounder with the issue, struggling to get their response in line with public expectations and perception. Accordingly, scrutiny has intensified with each passing incident.

That all being said, it’s important Chapman receive due process. However, questioning his trade isn’t punishing him in advance. Barring a suspension, he will still be paid the same salary (he is arbitration eligible, but should make a good deal more than the $8.05 million he made in 2015) barring any suspension. Asking these questions is wondering why a team would want to get involved with a player embroiled in such serious charges. It’s wondering why a business would make a decision that seems to value a bottom line (wins) over doing the right thing. The Yankees indicated they did their diligence in evaluating the situation before finalizing the move, but barring the outcome of the investigation, how reliable can their own findings be?

Chapman has only one year to go until hitting free agency. It can be said that New York took only a modest risk from a baseball standpoint by sending four middling prospects to see if he and his troubles pan out. But that’s only if you take the humanity out of the situation.

Major League Baseball and the Yankees undoubtedly have numerous fans who have either been domestic abuse victims or know someone who has. It’s not easy to shake the bad taste in trading for someone still under the weight of such allegations. If they were to be questioned (and they already are by a City Council Speaker) as to why they made such a choice, it’s hard to imagine any reasonable non-baseball response.

Of course, many fans will downplay the seriousness of it all. They’ll hang their hats on the fact that there are just allegations at this point. No conviction or official finding of wrong doing. Of course they’d be right but then there are some things that should be left to play out before making the decision as to what you are and are not comfortable living with.

If the Yankees had declined to go after Chapman, they wouldn’t have been the first team to do so this offseason. The Los Angeles Dodgers already reportedly nixed a trade for the reliever after the allegations surfaced. In baseball, the acquiring top-notch pitching truly is an arms race. This continues to be borne out by seeing exactly what teams are willing to do to get the top talent.

The MLB investigation will eventually conclude. Until then, no assumptions should be made. However, waiting for a resolution before trading for Chapman seems like a reasonable and appropriate expectation. Taking such a stance could cost a team his services but it’s hard to place a price on integrity. For years, the Yankees have stood for success, tradition and class. Hopefully, their most recent trade won’t tarnish that reputation.

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