Yesterday, the Chicago Cubs traded for Aroldis Chapman.
The reasons for the trade were clear. Chapman was arguably the best asset on the trade market, as you would expect from a left-handed relief pitcher whose fastball has averaged 98.7mph over his career.1 The Cubs’ incumbent closer, Hector Rondon, has been fine; he has converted 18 of 22 save opportunities this year and has favorable supplemental statistics. He’s perfectly respectable as a player and has done well enough to maintain his position as the closer on the team. Even his fastball, which averages around 97mph, is fast enough to overpower some hitters at the end of games. Chapman’s fastball, though, has been averaging closer to 100mph over the last month or so and has topped out at 105.
Rondon is fine; Chapman is excellent.
The Cubs probably overpaid for Chapman, as they sent four players to the Yankees, including their highest regarded hitting prospect, Gleyber Torres. But that’s what you have to do when you want to win a World Series and have a real shot. When you have a chance to win now, you find a way to get the players who will put you over the edge. Even if Chapman ends up being a rental for three and a half months – he’s a free agent after this season – a World Series ring makes everything worth it. You win at all costs and worry about consequences later.2
Speaking of which…
In October 2015, while he was still employed by the Cincinnati Reds, Chapman was involved in a domestic violence incident. Chapman and his girlfriend reportedly argued about something Chapman’s girlfriend found on his phone. During the argument, Chapman allegedly choked his girlfriend, pushed her against a wall and also fired eight bullets into his garage wall. His girlfriend reportedly ran outside and hid in the bushes to wait for police to arrive. A dozen officers responded but no arrests were made and no formal charges were filed.
For what it’s worth, Major League Baseball sentenced Chapman to a 30-game suspension in March 2016, making him the first player to serve such a suspension under the league’s new domestic violence policy. Chapman served his suspension and returned to pitch for the Yankees, to whom he had been traded during the off-season. It was all carried out quietly, though, as Chapman’s suspension seemed to come and go without much commentary. When I was getting ready to write this post, I had to do a bit of research to find details about the incident. It was a stark contrast to Greg Hardy of the NFL, whose history of domestic violence has been so well documented that I could have recited certain details about the allegations against him simply from memory.
The relative lack of attention paid to Chapman’s alleged actions against his girlfriend3 is one of the reasons why this trade makes me feel awkward. I’ve written before about the intersection between sports and domestic violence, particularly the struggle of having to cheer for a player who has been accused of physically assaulting their significant other. When I heard about the trade, I said on Twitter that I felt “icky.” I’m happy, on one hand, because I realize the level of Chapman’s talent and the extent of the Cubs’ need for a strong lefty reliever. The Cubs were already many “experts'” picks to win the World Series this year and adding him means they have an even better shot. That being said, I also struggle with the prospect of aligning myself with a man who seems to think violence against women is acceptable. I find myself picturing the Cubs winning games during the rest of the season and the playoffs and feeling a twinge in my stomach as the crowd starts cheering when Chapman is the player getting the final out.
The most difficult aspect of the situation is that there really isn’t much I can do about it. The article I wrote two years ago was about my fantasy team, which meant it was an easy problem to solve; I dropped Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson to the waiver wire and never looked back. But the Cubs are my real-life team and I have exactly zero control over the personnel decisions that team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer make.
I can be disappointed in their apparent feeling that sacrificing team character and integrity for the sake of winning baseball games is a justifiable trade-off. I can write blog posts like this one and ask them to explain the rationale behind their decisions.4 I can tell myself that Chapman has not been linked to any subsequent domestic violence accusations since the October incident and that the New York media would have found out if there were any. I can even hope that the lack of any news on that front means that Chapman learned his lesson or that he has changed his mindset about appropriate ways to work out arguments, although Chapman’s tone when he spoke about his suspension from baseball would suggest that he still may not quite get it.
Ultimately, whether I like it or not, Chapman is a Cub, at least for the rest of this season. The Cubs have a real chance to win the championship and an even better one with Chapman, no matter how “icky” it makes me feel. And, since switching my team allegiance or stopping watching baseball entirely are choices I’m not ready to make, I am just going to have to find a way to deal with the discomfort of trying to ignore the off-field behavior of a man who is trying to help my team win.
3. I know it’s annoying and unwieldy that I keep using the word “alleged.” It is important for clarity’s sake, though, as no formal charges were filed. Also, according to the police, there were no noticeable marks or bruises on Chapman’s girlfriend’s neck indicating that she had been choked. I’m obviously not saying Chapman is innocent, but this is a nuanced discussion and the facts need to be treated as such. ↩