With Chapman, MLB Sets Precedent

Relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman will face a 30 game suspension this season. Courtesy of Wikimedia

Originally published in The Fordham Ram on March 9, 2016.

While the NFL has been the organization taking most of the hits in terms of domestic violence in sports, the focus has recently shifted to MLB, specifically the case of Aroldis Chapman, a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees. The case is the first test of MLB’s new domestic violence regulations.

Last October, Chapman allegedly attacked his girlfriend and fired his gun in his garage eight times. However, there was no case made against Chapman due to a lack of substantial evidence, and all charges were dropped.

The Yankees traded for Chapman — who is on the last year of his contract — at a significantly discounted price in December due to the expected suspension. MLB faced a Sophie’s Choice of sorts: they could set the precedent that domestic violence, regardless of charges, would not be tolerated in the MLB and suspend Chapman for a long period of time (perhaps like the 80 games a player gets for his first positive PED test) or make sure the Yankees didn’t get an incredible deal on Chapman, as being suspended for more than 45 games would push his free agency back a year. In other words, the Yankees would have his rights for the 2017 season as well.

In the end, commissioner Rob Manfred worked with the MLB Players’ Association to negotiate a 30 game suspension for Chapman, on the grounds that he admits to firing his weapon – but, interestingly, not to attacking his girlfriend – and also waive his right to appeal. By negotiating this settlement, the MLB has ensured that a player suspected of domestic violence can be suspended 30 games without any sort of charges.

There is no real right answer to this conundrum of how MLB should have handled this case. On one side, a 30 game suspension without charges is certainly hefty, and an impressive showing by Manfred. On the other, taking into account the free agency of the guy you’re supposed to be punishing doesn’t look too great.

I lean more towards taking free agency into account. Outside of the punishment precedent, it is up to MLB to make the precedent that acquiring players with domestic violence problems on the cheap isn’t a worthwhile business practice.

This is the best outcome for MLB. It has to be remembered that this suspension comes with zero charges of domestic violence being pressed against Chapman. If he had been suspended longer, would there have been an outcry that it was too long for someone without charges? Possibly. If the Yankees managed to get an incredible bargain, trading four middling prospects for a season and change of control of the hardest throwing pitcher in history, that outcry would have been there as well, and justifiably so.

MLB juggled two equally important responsibilities in this case, setting precedents for both the players and front offices of MLB. For now, MLB arguably did the best it could with the hand it was dealt, and the hand wasn’t great.

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