The Houston Astros Should Think Before a Chapman Trade
The Houston Astros have to make a decision on whether to pursue a trade for a player accused of domestic violence. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a woman is assaulted in the United States every nine seconds. Put another way, this is equal to more than seven million women per year. Men who become physical during conflicts in their relationships with women have been rightfully demonized in modern society, and the small subset of those men who are famous are considered pariahs, particularly if/when pictures surface. A tendency towards domestic violence is both dangerous and damaging to the victim — psychologically and physically — and further a sign of impulsivity, stupidity, barbaric misogyny and a general lack of sophistication that most people find deplorable.
Any randomly chosen sample of professional athletes, like any subgroup of individuals — accountants, college students, veterans — possess a variety of different levels of personal morality. But due to our relationship with athletes, these concerns are secondary. We would love the most talented, fun-to-watch players also to be the most admirable, mature and well-rounded human beings. No such correlation exists, and this puts the fan in a bind.
Aroldis Chapman is, in all likelihood, a less-than-admirable person. Police reports that allege pushing, choking, and several gunshots fired in a garage are rarely fictional. In this case, the physical evidence and witness cooperation were not sufficient to press charges. Chapman will not be facing jail time and is entitled to a legal presumption of innocence. But, MLB does not abide by the same high burden of proof and is considered likely to discipline Chapman in 2016 under the league’s new Domestic Violence policy.
Before any of this came to light, Chapman was a coveted asset, particularly by Jeff Luhnow, Jim Crane, and the Astros fan base. His 102-MPH fastballs and overwhelmingly dominant statistical performance over the past five seasons make him the unquestioned best reliever in the sport, and a perfect fit for what ailed and ultimately felled the 2015 Astros: a lack of swing-and-miss late-inning relievers to work high leverage situations in support of a stable, reliable starting rotation.
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The Astros were hesitant to part with elite prospects for one year of control, and the Dodgers tentatively reached an agreement involving two unnamed prospects. The deal unraveled once the Dodgers learned of Chapman’s domestic violence incident.
The price to acquire Chapman is now almost certainly reduced. Also, a suspension for the start of the 2016 season could potentially (if it exceeds ~44 days) push his free agency back until after the 2017 season, giving his new team an extra year of control. Even following the addition of Ken Giles, the temptation exists to put together the best bullpen in baseball and essentially end most games after six innings.
And that’s where we come back to Chapman. Or, more accurately, to the organization and its fans. If we all agree Chapman is an amazing pitcher and a morally dubious individual, then it comes down to what each of us can support and take pride in.
For Crane, whether to engage in talks with Cincinnati is a business decision. If he feels that the overwhelming majority of his fans will happily look the other way as Chapman mows down the American League, then the pursuit will continue. If, on the other hand, he fears a fan backlash at the gate and protests that would sour the mood around a happy-go-lucky young team, he will shy away.
As a season-ticket holder, I have invested thousands of dollars in the 2016 Astros. I care. I want them to win because I feel a connection to the team and city and all the sense of belonging that comes with fandom. It’s plain ol’ Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
From my perspective, that’s not enough. I doubt I would be rooting for Adrian Beltre in a high-leverage at-bat against Chapman at Minute Maid in September. But I wouldn’t be comfortable rooting for Chapman, either. Perhaps I still would — months of trash talk with the Dallas fanbase leading up to that moment would be legitimate motivation. At the very least, I am certain that I would feel conflicted while doing so.
This does not render me morally superior to anyone who would be rooting loudly for Chapman. Heck, I might be sitting next to a guy wearing his jersey. But part of being a fan is you get to decide what matters to you. From my perspective, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to support great players who are, at a bare minimum, replacement-level people.