“I don’t feel like we compromised our integrity,” Theo Epstein told the media gaggle crowding around to hear him hold court on the Aroldis Chapman trade prior to Monday’s game at the Cell.
Whether you take him at his word or consider it a feat of semantic gymnastics, the Cubs’ baseball boss spoke at length about the process involved in trading for a man whose baggage won’t fit in the overhead bin of the jet that flew him to Chicago.
You can’t take for granted the position we’re in right now,” Epstein said. “We have a healthy pitching staff, a talented bullpen, two MVP candidates moving into their prime, a lot of talented hitters up and down the lineup, and they’ve worked their tails off to build up this nice lead heading into the stretch. We believe in these guys. We feel like we have a chance to do something special, but there’s a lot of work ahead.”
He went on to call Chapman “dynamic” and a “game changer,” particularly when the postseason rolls around. Given the position the Cubs are in, Epstein said the time was now to make a big splash.
That’s all well and good and no one would have questioned that assessment prior to the events of late 2015. But there was no way Epstein was getting out of there without addressing the issue of Chapman’s domestic violence incident and the ensuing suspension he served for it.
“If we had not been satisfied with what we heard,” Epstein explained, “we would not have moved forward. He’s been a good teammate and a good citizen in his months with the Yankees, and we expect that to continue in his months with the Cubs.”
Well, yeah, I’d hope he would manage to keep his nose clean over the next three months or so. Epstein went on to say that the Yankees had granted permission for Cubs brass and ownership to vet the closer prior to trading for him. David Ross even did a little sleuthing of his own, checking in with Yankees catcher Brian McCann to gather his impressions of his battery-mate. I’m sure you’ll be surprised to find that the Bronx backstop had nothing but praise for Chapman.
I don’t really want to get into a discussion of the pervasive dude-bro culture of professional sports, but, seriously, what the hell else was McCann going to say? In all likelihood, Chapman really was a good guy in the clubhouse. Plenty of people who are a-holes in one situation can be solid citizens in another. That’s not so much an indictment on Chapman’s individual character — I know nothing of him beyond certain unsavory details — as it is an acknowledgement of locker room life. Moving on.
So we’ve established that no one wanted to sabotage this deal, which would have taken some serious effort to do. Based on the statements from Tom Ricketts and Chapman(‘s publicist) himself, everything was pretty much status quo. Again, nothing here that I couldn’t have pretty much spelled out myself. Unsatisfying but fully expected.
“Our conclusion was that he has owned this, he is handling it the right way, he’s attempting to move on from it the right way,” Epstein concluded.
And there it is. Listen, it’s cool that Epstein took the time to fully address Chapman’s warts and that he didn’t completely brush that stuff aside. But I feel sorta like I got down to the continental breakfast at the hotel to find half of a stale bagel, a bruised apple, and an almost-empty pot of decaf. Cold.
I wanted something more, I wanted something honest. Not that Epstein was dishonest, though I take some issue with the idea that Chapman has owned anything other than a gun (which he apparently no longer does) or that the Cubs would have uncovered anything in their research that would have led them to call off the deal. They gave up their top prospect, along with three other players. That’s not exactly indicative of trepidation. Sure, they might have felt more comfortable tossing in Billy McKinney after hearing all the glowing reviews, but still.
I might be coming off as a hard-ass here, might be asking too much. After all, Epstein didn’t say anything fundamentally wrong. He didn’t lie, at least not in my estimation. But he didn’t really tell the whole truth. Maybe that’s because, as much as we clamor for it, the whole truth isn’t what we really want (insert Jack Nicholson A Few Good Men GIF).
I really just wanted to hear something like this:
“We are fully aware of the issues Aroldis Chapman has had in the past and we understand the impact his addition will have on our fans, particularly women and others who’ve fallen victim to domestic violence in one way or another. In our estimation, however, the impact Chapman can have as a member of this team carries more weight than the potential lost of faith and trust from those fans. Our hope is that being a part of this team can rehabilitate his image to an extent, but, what the hell, he may only be here for a couple months anyway.”
Wouldn’t that be a doozy? Of course, no exec in his right mind would ever say anything like that. Again, most people don’t want the unvarnished truth. But is there any doubt that’s at least a close approximation to what the Cubs were thinking here? That’s not to say they don’t care about women or that they are willingly throwing up a middle finger to those fans who decried this move, just that they care more about winning. Which, yeah.
I suppose I may have just set the bar too high in terms of my expectations, despite what a friend accused me of doing earlier. That’s not really it, though, as I knew Epstein would never actually delve into the nitty-gritties of the move. And who knows, maybe they really didn’t weigh any of that emotional/psychological stuff at all. Barring their acceptance of my invitation to a Barbara Walters-style sit-down, we’ll probably never know.
I’ll get over my gripe, though, I always do. There will be a newer, shinier object that catches my eye and I’ll move on to the next topic. Particularly since this attention-grabber ended up being kinda dull.