Yankees get discount on Aroldis Chapman and his baggage

Perhaps the Yankees took Billy Joel’s “Only the Good Die Young” to heart this offseason. After acquiring Starlin Castro a few weeks ago, the Yankees took the plunge to obtain closer Aroldis Chapman from the Reds yesterday. Castro, as I noted before, has been involved in a couple of off-field incidents. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is currently investigating Chapman for his role in a domestic violence incident at his home in Florida. The details are murky, but the Yankees struck a deal with Cincinnati anyway. Indeed, it appears the Yankees would prefer to laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

There’s nothing to say about Chapman’s ability that you probably don’t already know. At any rate, I’ll provide a few tidbits. He’s one of the top relievers in baseball, if not the very best. The Cuban lefty possesses the highest velocity fastball in the big leagues, regularly hitting 100 MPH. He has the highest strikeout rate of all-time (42.9%), minimum 300 innings pitched. Finally, his career ERA and FIP are 2.17 and 1.97 respectively. There’s no need to look any further to understand why the Yankees wanted him.

But for as incredible of a pitcher Chapman is, he might be just as bad of a person. After a trade that would have shipped him to the Dodgers fell through, a police report of a domestic violence incident at Chapman’s Florida home trickled out to the media. Tim Brown and Jeff Passan have the summary of the police report on Yahoo. Chapman was not arrested for his involvement, but that doesn’t necessarily save him from scorn. It’s more or less of a he-said-she-said, but there was clearly an argument that incited some sort of physical altercation between Chapman and his ex-girlfriend. We probably won’t ever know if Chapman choked his girlfriend and pushed her against a wall (her claim), or if he “poked” her in the shoulder and she fell to the ground (Chapman’s claim). Nonetheless, either action is in poor judgement. No, there weren’t any signs of injury on Chapman’s ex-girlfriend, but that is by no means a saving grace. That’s not all, though: in an apparent fit of rage, Chapman fired eight bullets in his garage while alone. That’s an alarming way to blow off some steam. Oh, and did I mention that the couple’s child was in the home during the entire confrontation? Yikes.

Due to the aforementioned incident, Chapman faces a suspension from commissioner Rob Manfred under the league’s new domestic violence policy. Under the policy, there is no minimum or maximum suspension required, so Chapman’s time in pinstripes in 2016 is at Manfred’s whim. Oddly enough, a significant suspension would actually stave off Chapman’s free agency until after the 2017 season, giving the Yankees an additional season of control. It’s difficult to speculate on how stiff the penalty will be because it will be the first of its kind.

Clearly, the police report depleted Chapman’s value. Hence Brian Cashman calling the Reds ask for the closer a “modified price point”. None of the prospects heading to baseball’s oldest franchise are expected to make significant impacts.

The biggest name of the four minor leaguers in the deal is Eric Jagielo. The lefty-swinging third baseman was formerly a first round draft selection out of Notre Dame in 2013. He’s hit quite well at every minor league stop (as high as Double-A), but various injuries have slowed his ascension to the big leagues. Moreover, he might not have the defensive chops to stick at third base, leaving a significant chance that he ends up at the other infield corner. Plus, the Yankees seem to be set for the long term at first base with Greg Bird in hand. KATOH, Chris Mitchell’s prospect projection system, foresees just 0.5 WAR through age-28 for Jagielo.

Perhaps the highest upside prospect going to Cincinnati is Rookie Davis. The big right-hander (6-3, 235) had something of a breakout campaign in 2015, posting a 3.86 ERA and 2.47 FIP in 130 innings between High-A and Double-A. This performance earned Davis a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason. Turning 23 in April, KATOH projects 2.6 WAR through his age-28 season.

Caleb Cotham and Tony Renda the lesser known pieces of the trade, although Cotham did see some time in the Bronx this season. Cotham has a chance to be a bullpen arm for the Reds. Renda, a second baseman, is a high contact hitter but quite poor in the field. Neither player should result in regrets a few years down the road.

Adding Chapman to a bullpen that might already have been the best in the game is silly. Chapman, along with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, are easily three of the best relievers in baseball. There’s been plenty of speculation about moving Miller, but I think we can put that to rest with Chapman’s impending suspension. The Yankees will need Miller to complement Betances and the rest of the bullpen while Chapman is temporarily barred.

While it’s easy to love this trade from a baseball-only perspective, there are many more layers to peel. Many will have no problem ignoring what Chapman did, but I’ll be unable to do that. My fandom will result in rooting for him to succeed on the field, but my rational side is going to feel very dirty about doing so. I can only hope that Manfred lays down a just punishment and that Chapman exhibits remorse. I’m confident in the former, but not so much on the latter. Through his attorney, Chapman already denied the allegations set forth by his ex-girlfriend, so that’s not a great start. In the end, this is undoubtedly going to help the Yankees win more games in 2016. For many, it will damage the franchise’s image, but again, it’s evident that the organization would rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

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