This Tuesday was an important day for Major League Baseball, and an important day for those combating domestic violence in sports and elsewhere. Aroldis Chapman, acquired by the Yankees in a trade with the Reds after the initial domestic violence allegations surfaced, accepted a 30-game suspension, and admitted to violating the new domestic violence policy under the CBA.
After the decision became public, there were a wide variety of responses. Some were not happy, as they thought that only the courts should decide cases of domestic violence. Others thought it was just right, arguing that it put teeth into a domestic violence policy that was currently untested.
Some others, who had a more nuanced approach, thought that the suspension did not go far enough. According to this group, including Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy and former pitcher/baseball analyst CJ Nitkowski, argued that Chapman's impending free agency should have no bearing on the decision handed down by commissioner Rob Manfred. Brian Cashman, they would say, took a risk and shouldn't force the hand of the arbiter. Others have also pointed to the PED policy, which looks a bit incongruous considering the first violation warrants a whopping 80-game suspension and postseason ineligibility.
Should this be a factor? It's clear now, according to Chapman's comments after the announcement, that free agency played a role. The thinking was that MLB could push for a 45-game suspension, but they would settle on 30 games if Chapman agreed to accept responsibility and waive his right to appeal. This would not only give a definitive number for a precedent, but it would also ensure that Chapman did not drag this issue out through arbitration and problems with the MLB Players Association. Handling it swiftly, from a PR perspective, makes sense.
Whether this should have been carried out, though, is a bit murkier. Chapman, if his suspension had cleared the 45-game threshold, would have had his free agency pushed back until after the 2017 season. This would hand another year of team control to the Yankees, who already felt they got a bargain after acquiring Chapman for peanuts; it was generally known that a suspension was forthcoming.
This consideration was likely crucial in the decision, but I also think this complicates the idea of Chapman's case being the be-all and end-all precedent case. Because of the nature of domestic violence, the commissioner's office, in lieu of a criminal case, is forced to conduct an investigation before handing down a decision. There is a time between the initial leak and the decision, and so it was with Chapman.
This inevitably leads to speculation on the viability of the alleged as a ballplayer. How long do we think the suspension will be? Is his makeup suitable? What would we have to give up right now to get him? These are the types of questions the Yankees did ask themselves, and without the prior considerations, it would happen again. The last thing baseball needs, and the last thing any sport needs, is speculation on domestic violence allegations. We don't need teams betting on the length of a suspension or the severity of a case, because ultimately that turns a really horrid situation into a Vegas betting line, the monetization and gamification of something that should never be monetized.
In this regard, the sentence is not just about the player, which I suppose is unfortunate, but it is also a disincentive to teams. Acquire these players, MLB would say, but don't think we're doing you any favors; in fact, we'll make your life as hard as possible for it. So MLB gave Chapman nearly the maximum suspension they could without giving the Yankees a benefit, as it should be.
What this does, though, is make it difficult to use as a barometer for future cases. In cases where there are charges, and where free agency has no bearing, how does Manfred respond? In other words: what is the no-strings-attached version of this suspension? Some would say it's 45 games, others would say maybe more. Either way, there won't be absolute clarity until we see future cases.
Chapman's suspension is an important one. It sets a precedent, in the one way it truly does, for MLB intervening in cases of domestic violence where there are no charges, and I cannot underscore how important that truly is. In a world where domestic violence is grossly under-reported and victims are afraid to come forward, there is at least some recourse for the victims, as well as road to recovery and reconciliation for abusers.
Furthermore, the suspension tells teams that they can acquire these players at their own peril; take whatever risks you'd like, but don't leverage a possible suspension for further monetary gain. As long as there is a gap between leak and decision (unlike with PED's where the suspension is immediate upon failing a test), there will be teams trying to capitalize on it. Unless a larger force steps in to stop them, they likely will.
There are still cases on the horizon for Jose Reyes and Yasiel Puig. It's unclear how those will play out in light of this case, but one thing is abundantly clear: this is a step in the right direction.