Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Cuban Missile Crisis

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Six winters ago, Yankee fans rejoiced following their MLB record 27th World Series Championship. General Manager Brian Cashman was bombarded with compliments after spending over $400 million on free agent stars C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira, while additionally trading for veteran clubhouse leader Nick Swisher. Fans ignored the long term aftermath of the contracts in order to get back to being on top of the baseball landscape; a place where they have felt so comfortable in the past.

Since their 2009 title, the Bronx Bombers have watched their rival Boston Red Sox win their third World Series in a decade. This, of course, followed Boston's 86 year title-less draught commonly referred to as "The Curse of the Bambino". As the Yankees' 2009 additions grew older along with Alex Rodriguez and the Core Four, it was implied that the team would have to get worse in order to eventually get better. But, they have always had a financial advantage that could potentially shorten the rebuilding process meanwhile keeping their fans satisfied.

Up until yesterday, this offseason has been atypical for Cashman and company. Rather than spending money the George Steinbrenner way, Cashman has been seeking out talent and making trades that could help the team grow younger while remaining competitive. Fans were beginning to see this management transition last offseason, but were still rewarded with reliever Andrew Miller for a 4 year term worth approximately $36 million. Even this signing, despite Miller's reputation as one of the game's top bullpen cogs, was relatively lackluster because it was only done to replace predecessor David Robertson and gain a first round compensation draft pick to use in the upcoming draft.

Cashman drew some noteworthy buzz a year ago as well by trading young assets Shane Greene, David Phelps, Francisco Cervelli, and veteran infielder Martin Prado to bring Nathan Eovaldi, Justin Wilson, and Derek Jeter's replacement, Didi Gregorius; to the Bronx. All three players were forgotten or unnecessary to their prior team's future, but essential to Cashman's blueprint. He did this while remembering that each player gained would need to be capable of handling the limelight and donning the pinstripes accordingly.

The moves paid off. Gregorius was nominated for a Gold Glove, Wilson was the primary 7th inning reliever, and Eovaldi won 14 games before an elbow injury ended his season. The team won 87 games, but ultimately lost the Wild Card Game to the emerging Houston Astros. All this while growing another year closer to the conclusion of some of baseball's all time worst contracts meant an overall success for the team. But they're the Yankees, and fans won't be able to tolerate these transition years much longer.

Yesterday, Cashman decided that the team is all in for 2016. He traded four middling prospects to the Cincinnati Reds for the best closer in baseball, Aroldis Chapman. Chapman has the talent to fit into what was already arguably the best bullpen in the sport. He will more than likely be given the full time 9th inning job while Miller and Dellin Betances will share the 7th and 8th inning roles depending on matchups. There is still some debate if Cashman will now look to trade Miller to acquire a young, controllable starting pitcher, but it appears unlikely at this time.

The most important question regarding the "Cuban Missile" is whether he has the makeup to fit into the fold. The Dodgers pulled away from a trade a month ago with the Reds after a horrifying story broke supposedly involving domestic violence between Chapman, his girlfriend, and a gun that was said to have been fired eight times.

The Reds were beginning a complete rebuild period themselves, and would have preferred to move their closer before the allegations came out anyway. Chapman was set to become a free agent after this year, and rebuilding teams typically should trade commodities midseason to get long term value out of a player they don't plan to resign through prospects. These types of moves also help contenders take an extra step towards a championship (ie: Yoenis Cespedes, David Price, and Johnny Cueto), so they're generally viewed as a win-win.

Cincinnati's former GM and now President Walt Jocketty did not take advantage of the opportunity to move Chapman at his highest value, and now-GM Dick Williams attempted to make up for the mistake with Los Angeles. However, the domestic violence situation was indeed disturbing, and the Dodgers could not be faulted for passing up on the player (no matter how hard he can throw his fastball). Cashman shocked everyone by swooping in to grab Chapman while his value was the lowest it's been.

From a business standpoint, the move makes total sense considering what was given up. Eric Jagielo and Rookie Davis have the potential to develop into solid players, but they aren't worth losing sleep over. They were able to upgrade their current roster while keeping Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, and all of their other most prized possessions.

Chapman will most likely begin the season suspended as Commissioner Rob Manfred may look to make a statement with the new Domestic Violence policy. He would need to be available in 138 games this season in order to qualify for free agency next year, so his suspension could mean one of two things for the Yankees. If he is suspended for fewer than 46 games, they will have him for close to an entire season and can tender a qualifying offer to him next winter. But if he is suspended for more than 46 games, he will fall short of the service time needed to become a free agent and the Yankees will have him for another season.

It's terrible to look at a player with this kind of recent history from a financial standpoint. Domestic violence should not be taken lightly, and the preceding information should not affect fans' standpoints on the importance of protecting players and their families. Whether Chapman gets a 25, 50, or 100 game ban, or no ban at all, is really unknown at this time. Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner did their homework before agreeing to the deal though, and they believe the suspension will be short enough where they can maximize his value for the length of the 2016 season. This will allow them to have a three headed monster capable of becoming the most dominant bullpen in recorded history.

The difference between these past two offseasons lays in the blood of their acquisitions. It appears as though Cashman has dropped the "good guy" policy the Yankees have always valued in order to instead gain as much talent as possible. He traded for infielder Starlin Castro several weeks ago, who has had some off-field violence history as well. It is easy to view the longtime General Manager as a villain for making these decisions. We live in a world today that places higher emphasis on punishing domestic abusers more than ever before.

Former manager Joe Torre is particularly opposed to violence, and established the Safe at Home Foundation in 2007 in order to raise money to educate and prevent domestic violence. As now acting Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations, Torre's personal history with domestic violence could play a role in Chapman's case.

With Aroldis Chapman closing out games in 2015, the Yankees may have earned their title as the "Evil Empire". His actions rival Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy's, who was given a second chance but is genuinely disliked by the vast majority of fans. When a player's reputation outweighs their talent, they can become a detriment to the clubhouse. When a player can throw 106 mph yet still manage to be a distraction, their presence can be dangerous. Brian Cashman is walking on a thin line with this trade. His reputation may be at stake for allowing one of the sport's criminals into the most populated city in America.

But if the team wins, all will rejoice, much like 2009. Chapman's personal history will dissolve into obscurity as he celebrates atop a float on Broadway.

There is a lot one can say about just how scary that may sound.

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