David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
When Alex Rodriguez became Public Enemy No. 1, a baseball pariah due to his Biogenesis-related offenses, the Yankees really had no other choice but to welcome him back when his season-long suspension was over.
Rodriguez, despite his brawls with Bud Selig as well as the team’s front office, still had three years and $61 million left on his contract. He was a Yankee, and A-Rod’s exorbitant salary insured that he would remain one, along with whatever complications came with him wearing pinstripes.
We bring that up now, in the wake of Monday’s trade for Aroldis Chapman, because the Yankees did have a choice in this case. And by inviting a player currently under investigation by Major League Baseball for domestic violence — not to mention documented evidence of Chapman shooting up his garage during the alleged altercation — the Yankees have made a questionable one.
In no way are we comparing PED use and domestic violence. Only pointing out that there is a huge difference between dealing with in-house problems, as the Yankees were forced to do with Rodriguez, and welcoming trouble, which may very well be the situation with Chapman.
The Dodgers were concerned enough earlier this month that they backed out of an agreement to acquire Chapman from the Reds after the police report was first made public by Yahoo.com. Instantly, one of the hottest names on the winter trade market suddenly turned radioactive, and the assumption was the Reds would be stuck with Chapman until he reached free agency at the end of the 2016 season.
But as a general rule of economics, drop the price low enough, and a buyer eventually will emerge, which apparently is what happened here with the Yankees. Look at what they gave up. Four minor-leaguers, with varying degree of promise, and none on the level of a Bird, Severino, Sanchez or Judge.
The Reds evidently were prepared to take whatever they could get rather than deal with the fallout when Chapman showed up for spring training. And we’re talking about a franchise that doesn’t get quite the same attention as the Yankees, who set up shop in a market which is always one match-strike from a media inferno, even under the best of circumstances.
And as skilled as the Yankees are at defusing controversy, this is a far more serious realm than PED suspensions. Major League Baseball acted swiftly this year to implement a domestic violence policy after seeing the NFL struggle to handle its high-profile incidents involving Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. Within months of the policy being announced, MLB wound up with three of its own cases on the docket: Chapman, Jose Reyes and Yasiel Puig.
Chapman was not charged in the alleged altercation at his Miami-area home. But under MLB’s guidelines, commissioner Rob Manfred can discipline a player — with “no minimum or maximum penalty” — regardless of whether he is charged or convicted of a crime, depending on MLB’s own investigation. The Yankees are fully aware that Chapman could be suspended for the start of the ’16 season, and also are bracing themselves for the potential public outcry.
“Certainly there are some issues here that are at play,” Cashman said Monday night during a conference call with reporters. “I acknowledge that’s an area clearly of concern.”
The GM repeatedly has told us this winter the Yankees are operating on a tighter budget that has prevented them from going after big-name free agents like David Price or Zack Greinke, two elite starters that would have improved the team’s greatest area of need. So with an eye on payroll, Cashman had to get creative to land Starlin Castro — biding time for his old buddy, Theo Epstein, to sign Ben Zobrist first — and then swoop in to grab Chapman, a strikeout-machine who is arguably the best at what he does.
There’s no debating that Chapman, when combined with Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, gives the Yankees the most formidable bullpen in the game. Cashman said Monday that he has no idea yet exactly how those three intimidating arms will be deployed. No matter how they line up, there’s really no wrong answer.
The biggest mistake, however, may be trading for Chapman in the first place.