Making Sense of the Chapman Trade

ChapmanOK, here we go.

On Monday, the Cubs finalized one of the more significant trades in their recent history, acquiring fireballer Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees in exchange for four prospects, headlined by the organization’s No. 1 farmhand, Gleyber Torres.

I’d love to be able to talk about this trade solely in baseball terms. I really would. Because when you look at this solely in terms of baseball, it’s everything you want in a trade. It’s exciting, it’s impactful, it’s interesting, it has the possibility of significantly improving both teams.

The Cubs gave up a lot to get Chapman, who may be nothing more than a rental, but they didn’t give up a single piece of significant importance to this year’s team. And to me, that’s important. I do wish the Cubs could’ve gotten an extension completed before the deal was struck to make me feel a bit better about losing Torres, but at the same time, the addition of Chapman’s arm to this bullpen could be the key in bringing home the Cubs’ first World Series ring in 108 years.

There’s so much to talk about regarding this trade from a baseball perspective. And I really want to discuss it solely as such.

Unfortunately, that’s just not something that can be done in this instance, and that’s all because of something that happened on Oct. 30, 2015, when Chapman was involved in a domestic disturbance that, according to reports, may have involved some deeply disturbing domestic abuse. It’s important to note that Chapman was not criminally charged in this incident – though he did serve a 30-game suspension to start this season – but it’s also important to note that domestic violence is a tricky subject, and no charges doesn’t necessarily mean that no wrongdoing occurred.

Deadspin published what is, in my mind, the best synopsis to date on the events of that night. No matter your opinion of the Chapman deal, I’d implore you to read this story. If you’re going to have an opinion on this matter, the least you can do is educate yourself about it.

So, to (very) briefly summarize: Chapman shot his gun a number of times inside of his own garage in a fit of anger, but did not shoot at anybody. At some point, Chapman and his girlfriend had some sort of physical contact. But that’s where things get blurry. By one account, he “choked” her (I use quotes because, apparently, it was restraint and not an attempt to stop her from breathing – not to imply that’s any better), by another he simply “used his fingers to move her away from him … she lost her balance and fell.”

There are a lot of things to take away from this, and none of them really take away the icky feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach when you read it. On one hand, domestic abuse victims often resort to excuses – like tripping, falling, running into something – out of fear to explain violent physical contact. On the other hand, there are literally zero witnesses to the alleged physical contact that occurred in the theater room of the home, so absolutely any assumption we make about this incident is just that – an assumption, based off of our personal biases or experiences.

So, in one sense, you technically can’t be sure that Chapman abused anyone. But, again, the whole story just feels… off. It feels wrong. And what’s more, it feels like something we’ve all heard before. All of us – myself included – who have known victims of domestic violence undoubtedly have heard the same refrain, “Well, yes, he or she hit me, but I was …” And sure enough, that’s what we see here, comments about how she was invading his personal space. It feels wrong.

And, as former Midway Madness writer – and current member of The Athletic – Lauren Comitor wrote in her recent piece (which, by the way, is excellent and I thoroughly suggest you read), it’s going to continue to feel wrong each and every time Chapman is on the mound for the Cubs, up to and including during the World Series. As it should. Because a big part of me can’t comprehend how someone can look at what’s contained in the above-linked article and then brush it off entirely.

chapman-aroldis-22316-usnews-getty-ftr_1c0hjknsnlq7d1xwotv7mlvuw0However, we also have to look at this from another perspective.  Regardless of your opinion on the incident, the fact is that Chapman was not charged with a crime. What punishment he did receive from the league, he served. He did his time, so to speak. And because of that, it’s not as though it would be fair that he not be allowed to work (even if that work is playing in a game for lots of money), even if that is for the Chicago Cubs, my favorite team.

The key going forward, given the circumstances surrounding this situation (those circumstances being that he was never criminally charged and he served his league-mandated punishment) really comes down to transparency and openness on the part of both Chapman and the Cubs. Thus far, I have to admit, I’ve been impressed.

That the Cubs went the extra step of insisting they “meet” (over the phone) with Chapman before the trade became official is a significant step. It seems minor – making him promise not to act like an asshat over the phone – but it’s not. This isn’t something that happens before trades. Before free agent signings? Sure. But trades? No. Also, the fact that both the Cubs and Chapman released statements immediately following the trade becoming official is important. It was necessary and to some extent expected, but they did it and I think both sides articulated themselves as best as they possibly could given the situation.

Further, Theo Epstein spent 30 minutes before Monday’s crosstown game discussing the decision in-depth. He didn’t shy away from questions. Is that a low bar to set? Yeah, admittedly so. But I’m not quite sure what more could’ve been done up to this point. It seems the Cubs have done what they can to this point, and further, it seems that they are committed to continuing to be as open as possible. It’s also pretty clear that they’ve told Chapman of their expectations in no uncertain terms.

Of course, I wish I could hear more from Chapman on the matter, though I also respect his decision to not talk about the incident going forward out of respect to his family. It’s an easy excuse – but it’s also squarely in line with the concept of protecting the victim. The more he re-hashes this incident in a public forum, the more spotlight it puts on his alleged victim, forcing her to re-live what is undoubtedly (regardless of what actually happened) one of the worst days of her life. It’s the reason that many (responsible) newspapers don’t publish the names of domestic abusers. Not because they don’t deserve public shame, but because it often indirectly names the victim.

It’s a tricky subject, and one that we’re just not going to get a satisfactory conclusion to that doesn’t make us feel at least a little bit dirty. All we can really do, it seems, is educate ourselves on what happened and hold both the Cubs and Chapman to the same high standards that the Cubs have promised to hold Chapman to so long as he is a member of the Cubs organization.

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