When Aroldis Chapman was traded to the Yankees for four average prospects (Eric Jagielo, Rookie Davis, Caleb Cotham, and Tony Renda) in late-December, it was a surprisingly modest return for the Reds. Chapman was undoubtedly the best closer in the National League, if not in all of baseball, and the prospects going back to the Reds certainly didn’t seem to be on that level. When Craig Kimbrel was brought to Boston, it came at the price of Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen. Chapman is as good as Kimbrel, if not better, so on paper the trade that sent him to New York seemed like a very confusing move for the Reds. And while it looked like a great move for the Yankees no matter how you sliced it, there was one glaring reason for why Chapman came at such a discount.
In December, it came to the public’s attention that there had been a domestic violence incident at Chapman’s house on October 30th. A police report described a disturbing incident where Chapman allegedly choked his girlfriend, pushed her into a wall and subsequently fired eight gunshots into his garage. Chapman was not arrested “due to conflicting stories and a lack of cooperation from all parties involved,” though he did admit to firing his gun eight times.
Unsurprisingly, Chapman’s trade value plummeted following the incident. Not only were teams worried about acquiring Chapman for the moral issues surrounding the situation, but the chance of suspension was a serious risk. When the Yankees pulled the trigger on the trade, they likely were fairly certain of some kind of league discipline. But, there was a safety net for the Yankees: if Chapman was suspended for more than 45 days, he’d be under the Yankees’ control for an extra season. This is because he’d come short of the full six years of major league service required for free agency.
Well, the news broke Tuesday that Chapman will be suspended for 30 games. Chapman’s camp and the MLB Player’s Association will not appeal, and the suspension will begin Opening Day. This puts Chapman on track to return for May 9 against the Kansas City Royals. That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that Chapman won’t be permitted to participate in any minor league games while suspended, so he may need a week or so to ramp up to in-game situations at the lower levels first. Chapman will end up playing enough games to file for free agency next offseason, barring another suspension.
This ruling is very interesting for several reasons. The first of which is the precedent that it is setting. Major League Baseball’s domestic violence protocol is fairly new, with this being the first big suspension being handed out. There also appears to be a compromise here, with Chapman working with the Commissioner’s Office and agreeing not to appeal the suspension for a lesser overall penalty.
The Yankees and their fans should be satisfied with this suspension. While morally people may not be pleased with the penalty, on the surface it seems to be fair and not unexpected. The Yankees understood the risk of this happening going into the deal, and missing over a month of the season isn’t an egregious suspension. Keep in mind, Chapman did not play his first game in 2014 until May 11th after being hit in the head by a comebacker in the Spring, but still threw 54 innings and earned an outstanding 2.7 WAR. Although it undoubtedly hurts the Yankees to be missing a key cog in the bullpen like Chapman, this isn’t something that will derail the season.
The Yankees have two of the best relief pitchers in the league in Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, followed up by solid depth in the form of Chasen Shreve, Bryan Mitchell, Jacob Lindgren, Branden Pinder, James Pazos, Nick Rumbelow, and Nick Goody. The Yankees will need three of those pitchers to start off the season, and Chasen Shreve is likely a lock to make it into the bullpen. Although the remaining arms are unproven, there is a good chance that the Yankees and Joe Girardi can find a combination to work for the first month of the season. It won’t be the legendary bullpen that fans had hoped for—at first—but it will still be a perfectly capable, if not great, relief corps.
Overall, this is a fine outcome for the team. While it wasn’t 50 games—which would have allowed the Yankees an extra year of control—that’s definitely not a bad thing. The Yankees are likely in a much better place to compete this year than next. 30 games isn’t a very big deal in the grand scheme of things, likely only costing about 15 innings from Chapman. Now with the knowledge that Chapman will be a free agent going into this offseason, it will be interesting to follow whether or not the Yankees intend on re-signing Chapman. At this point, though, it’s unlikely that they do. The Yankees may be waiting until the 2018 offseason to restock their major league club, and they also have Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances holding down the fort in the later innings. The team doesn’t need to sign Chapman back to what will likely be a very expensive contract, and there should be better ways for the team to allocate their resources. That said, it’s certainly not impossible that the team retains Chapman. Fans may be a bit disappointed that the Yankees’ super ‘pen will be on hold, but it could have been worse. After all, the deadly trio of Chapman, Betances, and Miller should be shutting down hitters by May.
Lead photo: Kim Klement/USA Today Sports