The Yankees made an unexpected and controversial move yesterday, sending four prospects to Cincinnati for supremely talented yet troubled closer Aroldis Chapman. Apparently, Brian Cashman wasn't lying when he said he wasn't done after dealing Justin Wilson to Detroit earlier this month. Wilson suddenly seems rather superfluous to a Yankee bullpen that now features three of the six most valuable relief pitchers of 2015 according to fWAR and the top three in strikeouts-per-nine. If all three firemen are here to stay, the Yankees won't just shorten games to six or even five innings - they'll also have crazy flexibility in getting everyone enough rest and making sure at least one is available just about every night.
If Chapman's impending suspension isn't much longer than anticipated, the Yankees can expect to get from their top three relievers, 200-plus innings of Cy Young level performance. Chapman, Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances' combined 6.9 fWAR in 2015 tops all but two starting pitchers, and their total cost of around $23 million next year sits far beneath the salaries of guys like David Price and Zack Greinke.
Chapman was born February 28th, 1988 in Holguin, a city of around 300,000 in eastern Cuba. In 2009, at age 21, considered among the best lefty pitching prospects in the world, he walked out of a hotel in Rotterdam, Netherlands, beginning an international bidding war that ultimately landed him a six-year $30.25 million contract from the Reds, then the second largest ever for a Cuban defector. Though he started 20 games during his final year in Cuba's Serie Nacional, Cincinnati saw him as a reliever, and he made his MLB debut out of the pen in 2010. Over the ensuing six seasons, he fire-balled his way a 2.17 ERA and 1.02 WHIP over 324 appearances, amassing an unfathomable career K-rate of 15.4. He made the NL All-Star team four straight years from 2012-2015 and notched 33 or more saves in each of those seasons.
Chapman's best known for a fastball that's unrivaled around baseball. In 2015 he averaged 99.5 mph on his heater, a small step down from the 100.3 mph mark he posted a year prior. According to MLB's Statcast system, he was responsible for the 62 fastest pitches thrown last season (new teammate Nathan Eovaldi was 63). His personal best came back in 2013 when he dialed it up to 106. While fastballs make up over 75 percent of Chapman's offerings, he also features a high-80's slider that's tough to adjust to when you're prepping for triple digits. All that contributed to a ridiculous 19.3 percent swinging strike rate last year and a tiny contact rate of 59.6 percent.
Unfortunately, the Yankees didn't just trade for one of the best relievers in the game Monday. They also got a guy who's under investigation by MLB over a domestic violence incident that occurred at his Florida home on October 30th. Allegedly, Chapman choked his girlfriend and then fired a gun in his garage while she hid outside in the bushes. That all happened, reportedly, while the woman's four month old child and several other people were in the house. Chapman hasn't been arrested or charged with a crime. Police weren't able to find sufficient evidence thanks to "conflicting stories and a lack of cooperation from all parties involved" and there were no physical signs showing the woman had been choked. Chapman's side claims it was he who was attacked by the woman and her brother after she found something upsetting on his phone, but he's admitted to shooting the gun and being restrained by friends. That was enough for the Dodgers, who are already dealing with a similar situation involving Yasiel Puig, to back out of a trade for Chapman during the Winter Meetings, although they may have merely been backing out of the prospect price they'd agreed to.
I'm not completely comfortable judging the character of someone I don't know based on limited information, and yes, Chapman has the right to ply his trade pending whatever punishment his employer (or more accurately, the organization governing his employer) deems fit. This latest blemish, though, is part of a pattern of questionable behavior that's plagued him throughout his career. October 30th was the second time in less than a month that police were called to his home over a domestic dispute. In 2012 he was arrested in Ohio for driving recklessly with a suspended license. He's currently involved in two separate paternity suits brought by two different women in south Florida.
In the post-Ray Rice era of sports, violence against women perpetrated by athletes has finally gotten the serious attention it deserves. Yet the conundrum of rooting for players with good numbers on the field and poor records in life is nothing new. During George Steinbrenner's reign, the Yankees were well known as second chance givers, bringing in the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Doc Gooden and Steve Howe. Howe's crimes were mostly against himself, but in addition to their drug issues Strawberry faced domestic assault accusations more than once, not to mention tax and child support evasion charges, and Gooden was hit with spousal assault claims and was arrested more than once for fighting with police. Those sorts of signings seemed for a while to be a thing of the past, but now Chapman's here and so is Starlin Castro, who was accused of, although not charged with, sexual assault in 2012.
The ironic thing is that Chapman's only a Yankee today because of what happened in October. It's the only reason they were able to acquire one of baseball's truly electric arms without giving up a top-five organizational prospect. The move undoubtedly improves the product in 2016 and that's what most of us have been clamoring for since season's end. But it comes with a hearty helping of "yeah, but..." I was aboard the Strawberry-Gooden comeback train in '96. I feel bad about that, but good about Doc's no-no and the three home runs Darryl hit in the ALCS. As a fan, you hold your nose with one hand and cheer with the other.