After more than twelve hours of swirling speculation and hearsay, the Yankees seem to have finally taken their first step toward selling. They’ve reportedly traded closer Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs in exchange for swingman Adam Warren and prospects Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, and Rashad Crawford.
What is most immediately fascinating about this trade is not the players involved (although that is certainly something to be discussed), but the philosophical choices involved. For the Yankees, this represents their first major selling maneuver in recent memory. Even in down years such as 2013 and 2014, when the team was rather apparently not a contender, the Yankees made trades (Alfonso Soriano, Chase Headley) geared towards pushing to the playoffs. With Hal Steinbrenner supposedly being opposed to trading away major assets as recently as yesterday, it feels like a small miracle that Brian Cashman was able to convince him to read the writing on the wall.
For the Cubs, the issue is much murkier. The package of players that was given away for Chapman is a rather substantial one, especially for two months and a playoff run’s worth of individual innings from an incredibly talented reliever.
And that's a reliever who just served a suspension for violating the league’s new domestic violence policy. It’s impossible to speak of Chapman without discussing this fact, and in fact it would be irresponsible to do so. There is an ugly truth in that the Yankees acquired Chapman at a reduced cost because of the suspension he would likely have to serve, and that the Cubs have just actively acquired a player who choked his girlfriend and repeatedly fired a gun out of anger in her vicinity. There is an ugly truth in that the Yankees scored a massive profit in terms of talent here, and were able to do so because of Chapman’s abusive behavior.
There is no good solution here. Chapman served his suspension, even though he has never appeared to be anything approaching remorseful. A suspension isn’t a way to engender remorse. Chapman is still paid millions of dollars to play sports and will obtain an even larger paycheck this coming winter when he becomes a free agent. By all legal standards, this is his right, as it is the right of teams to employ him and use him as a force out of the bullpen.
Yet it feels wrong. So many Cubs fans are currently torn between wanting to win their first World Series in more than a century and the sinking feeling that it may indeed be Chapman who will record the final out of that victory. There’s more than a little selling of one’s moral soul to be done here. No team in any sport is composed of none but the pure of heart.
Chapman’s skeletons are not in his closet. They’re out there in the open for the world to see, and he was disciplined by the league for it. We know the details of what happened, and we know that he probably doesn’t particularly care that we know. There’s a marked emotional difference between knowing that your favorite player probably isn’t a saint and knowing exactly what happened on that night in Florida.
There is no good solution here. Caring about Chapman’s violent past leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Trying to push it out of mind and focusing on the triple-digit numbers that he creates on a radar gun is a good way to feel guilty.
The fact that the Cubs gave up such a substantial package for Chapman won’t make their fans feel any better either. Torres, a fine two-way shortstop in A-ball who has yet to turn 20, was just ranked 34th in Baseball Prospectus’ midseason top-50 prospect list. McKinney placed fourth on the preseason top-10, although he's struggled this year due to a knee injury. Crawford is a very raw yet very toolsy A-ball outfielder. Warren, meanwhile, was part of the deal that sent Starlin Castro to New York over the winter. After struggling for Chicago, he’s back with the Yankees, making that trade largely a wash for the Cubs.
From a purely baseball perspective, it’s possible that the Yankees made out like bandits here, regardless of what they sent to Cincinnati in their initial Chapman trade. The Cubs just traded quite a lot of young talent for a closer. However, it’s also possible that the public valuation of elite relief pitching, especially in the postseason, is misguided. After all, the Royals just rode a great bullpen to two pennants and a World Series win. Chapman’s value certainly plays up in the playoffs, where every out matters. He’s more valuable to the Cubs than he is to the Yankees, who are going nowhere in a hurry, right now.
And yet, all of this discussion feels rather pointless in the face of what he did, and the very public declaration that character and respecting women mean so very little in the face of a flag flying forever. The goal of a sports team is to win a championship. Adding Aroldis Chapman to their bullpen absolutely gives the long-suffering Cubs a chance to do specifically that.
For many Cubs fans, though, this feels like a bridge too far. It’s very easy to understand that sentiment.
Update: Here's the statement from Chapman:
It's easy to say you're sorry in a prepared statement — and say it in the purposefully obfuscatory language that we usually see in these sort of statements — but that doesn't make it true, especially when the opposite seemed to be the case so recently.