The Cleveland Indians could use an upgrade for their bullpen as they try to win their first division title in nine years, then hopefully reach their first World Series in 19 years, and win their first in 68 years. New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, one of the very best relievers in baseball, in the midst of another excellent season, was on the trading block, and for most of Sunday, the Indians were considered the favorites to acquire him. It's unclear if the Tribe backed off, or if they were outbid, but on Monday it was the Chicago Cubs who acquired Chapman instead.
First, the purely baseball side of things. The Cubs gave up their top prospect Gleyber Torres, another highly regarded prospect Billy McKinney, lower-level prospect Rashad Crawford, and 28-year-old MLB reliever Adam Warren.
In terms of what the equivalent package from the Indians would have looked like, Torres is very similarly rated to Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier, so one of those two would have been in the deal. McKinney was also a top 100 prospect coming into this season. He's not having a great year, so he won't be on those lists this upcoming offseason, but a 21-year-old only a year removed from being considered a top 100 talent is still very valuable, and it would have taken take another one of the Tribe's top five or six prospects to match him, maybe Justus Sheffield or Triston McKenzie. The closest comp to Warren is probably Zach McAllister, while Crawford is a long odds lottery ticket, not someone who moved the needle much on this deal.
Chapman will be a free agent at the end of this season, and because he was traded midseason, there can't be draft pick compensation attached to him. The Cubs acquired him for ten weeks of the regular season, plus the postseason. The Cubs have the best record and run differential in baseball, and the largest lead among any of the six division leaders. They were already close to a lock to make the postseason, so Chapman doesn't really change that part of the equation. Basically, the Cubs acquired him to (they hope) pitch 10-15 high-leverage innings in the postseason. Chapman would actually have been more valuable to the Indians, because while they're in good shape, they're less certain to make the postseason, which means Chapman could've been a bigger difference-maker during the regular season.
That said, the Cubs can spend as much money as they want, allowing them to put a lot of free agent talent on their roster, which means they don't need to grip their prospects as tightly as a team like the Indians needs to. I can't get behind the Tribe giving up one of the 25-30 best prospects in baseball and another valuable young talent, just for a few weeks of a more dependable bullpen, and that would be true even if the upgrade in question hadn't choked his girlfriend and fired a gun eight times in order to intimidate her.
The other side of my relief over the Indians not making this trade, the more important side, is that I want absolutely nothing to do with cheering for someone who's done what Chapman did on October 30, when his girlfriend fled their home, terrified of what would happen to her if she didn't.
Chapman wasn't charged, but no one who is closely familiar with domestic violence, or has listened to someone who has experienced it, actually believes there are always or even usually charges in DV situations. MLB suspended Chapman for 30 games because of the incident, as it begins the awkward process of trying to hold accountable those the police are unable to press charges against. Cubs management has said they take domestic violence seriously, but clearly they don't take it as seriously as a boost to their bullpen. There probably aren't many billion-dollar corporations that would, and the Cubs could safely assume most of their customers would approve (they do), so it's not a surprising move, just one I'm happy my favorite team ultimately wasn't the one to make.
The other oft-given defense for acquiring Chapman (aside from the vile "Women make this stuff up all the time; he wasn't even charged.") is that sports don't have to be about morals, that being a fan is about rooting for guys on the field, not off of it. I strongly disagree. Yes, sports fandom is somewhat about escaping from the rest of the world, but that doesn't mean sports exist in a vacuum, and when "the rest of the world" enters in sports, it shouldn't just be brushed aside. One in four women will be the victim of domestic violence at some point in her life, and I abhor the notion that we should ignore their suffering if it brushes up against the ninth inning of a close ballgame.
If the Indians could swap Francisco Lindor for someone with identical numbers, but who didn't play the game with his boundless enthusiasm and joy, would you be happy with it? Would you enjoy the Indians just as much if they didn't sacrifice a chicken to try and help a teammate out of a slump, if there was no Klubot, no Lando Carlossian, no party at Napoli's? Doesn't this team's clear affection for one another mean something?
I realize we come to love those particular moments and personas because they happen on the team we already rooted for, but the vast majority of fans want things like that to connect with, things beyond what just looking at the standings can provide. We can't truly know the hearts and minds of our favorite team's players, but we like to think of them as the good guys, and can't possibly convince myself that Chapman is one of the good guys.
I badly want to see the Indians win the World Series. If and when it happens, I'd rather the moment not be tainted by the pitcher who recorded the final out not being a man who laid his hands in violence upon his significant other, who fired a gun eight times so that she would know he meant business, who compelled her to hide in the bushes while she waited for help. No reward is worth this.