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This piece isn’t really about domestic violence. Nor is it ultimately about Aroldis Chapman, although the erstwhile Red is one of its central characters. When the Reds traded Chapman to the Yankees for prospects and the privilege of not having to deal with his domestic violence investigation any further, it became clear that the edges of baseball’s free market were brushing up against baseball’s humanity in a way as interesting as it was alarming. So this piece is about the opportunities baseball seeks, and the prices we pay for them.

Franchises strive for success. It’s an amorphous concept whose constitutive parts are measured against yardsticks of different lengths, sometimes transpiring over the course of an afternoon, sometimes requiring years before progress is ticked off and tallied. We break the pieces down into building blocks, trade and parse and analyze them so that we might better understand how they fit together once they’ve been reassembled. What kind of people they field is a consideration, but has rarely been a decisive one. We are trained to praise teams for finding the undervalued or under-theorized, and unleashing those maneuvers on unsuspecting opposition. Budget constrained and in need of offense? Get on base. Limited free agent dollars to spend? Conquer the defensive frontier with aggressive shifts, ground ball pitchers, and framing. We applaud the moments when the workings of the human body come together with the “Huh, I wonder if?” of the mind, and advance baseball.

There’s something deeply satisfying about untangling the frenetic mess we see on the field, pulling apart the Rube Goldberg machine and reengineering something sleek and efficient and winning instead. Of course, the only reason front offices get to continue these baseball experiments is that they translate to wins. Machinations that prove ineffective are eventually abandoned. Successful teams are able to capitalize on the gap between what we have known and what we think we might be able to know. They monetize these strategies, turning wins into revenue with ticket sales and merchandise and lucrative TV deals that let us all watch and marvel at their brand of baseball. Analytics are refined in service to winning, with winning in service to profit. But we’re generally able to maintain an uneasy truce with those facts, because in between there is baseball. We applaud the savvy move, and covet our own alchemy, convinced baseball’s next big thing will make our team baseball’s next great thing. And as we press our noses against the glass or crane our necks for a better view of the field, we wonder what else they’ll cook up.

But then the incentive structure tilts in an uncomfortable direction. MLB’s domestic violence investigation of Chapman shattered a Dodgers deal beyond repair. Not yet suspended, but publicly implicated and investigated, the closer’s place with the Reds was in limbo. His team was desperate to move him; the rest of baseball seemed reticent to take him. Enter the New York Yankees, willing speculators in a turbulent market.

Chapman became a distressed asset, and the prospects that the Reds got carry far less pedigree than those they would have demanded six months ago. The Yankees side of the deal is tantalizing for those who worship at the altar of market inefficiency. Despite the unholy triumvirate formed by Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Miller, a full year of Chapman pitching might only be the team’s second best option. With a possible suspension looming, he might not accrue enough service time in 2016 to reach free agency before 2017. The Yankees get an incredible closer, or an extra year before that closer reaches free agency, or both, all for a price far less than Chapman’s natural talent would dictate under less disturbing circumstances. It all makes a certain kind of sense: business sense. The Reds want to rebuild; a fire sale for prospects and the future is their preferred outcome. The Yankees want to contend; acquiring bullpen siege weapons to rival Boston’s seems only natural, especially when offered at such a deep discount. It’s a success, perhaps more so for New York than Cincinnati, but a success nonetheless, replete with words like “opportunity” and “due diligence.” It’s a brilliant bit of arbitrage, a lucky chance forcefully seized. And it comes at a great cost.

There have been questionable men in baseball before, just as there have been teams willing to employ them. I dare say they’ve always been there in equal measure. Their sins exist on a continuum of severity, and the victims of those sins have been known and anonymous, believed or suspected in their turn. But never before have we known so much about baseball and those who play it. And so just as we know the pitch-by-pitch velocity of Chapman’s fastball, we know how many shots he fired in his garage, even through the fog of conflicting witness statements. Just as we measure the flight of his baseball from the mound, eager to ascribe its pitch, yaw and roll a value in prospects, we know the age of the child that was in the house as the incident unfolded. We know more than we ever have, and teams know significantly more than we do. They deploy all that data and science in search of an advantage, an angle. To be unhittable. To score. As they accumulate and amalgamate and model data, they quest, trying to win it all. And they’ve identified this awful thing as another data point in Aroldis Chapman’s valuation.

Like opt-outs, and no trade clauses, and guaranteed money, this awful moment in two people's lives had a market value. It was monetized. It became part of the cold calculation of worth that is always present in this kind of accounting. But instead of Chapman’s trade value being depressed by injury or poor play or any of a hundred baseball facts that might have resulted in this exact same outcome, we’re faced with the reality that in addition to a fact of his biography, this night, is now a facet of his value, a consideration of his contract.

Like all speculators, teams will run right up to the line the law provides, even if it is well past where we might see decency make its stand. The Yankees grander motive is no doubt to win, a motive that is not in itself bad. Indeed, it is analytics raison d'être, the force that animates the “Huh, I wonder if?” and moves it beyond idle fascination. They didn’t break the rules, nor was this a symptom of some Yankees-specific disease. Other teams are not inoculated by an overabundance of virtue somehow lacking in those who wear pinstripes. It was legal and comprehensible, the logical extension of the search for exploitable value. And it might have been unconscionable anyway. Not because it wasn’t predictable, or calculable, but because it shifts the limits of good taste outward. Purposely or not, it assigns value not to the failing of a baseball player, but to the devastating failures of a man, and allows the first team immune to the muck’s smell to profit. The outcry is worth four prospects. It is worth a potential year of free agency. It fails to access the humanity at the core of the game, cleaving apart the discussion of the baseball from that of the person, until we’re accustomed to treating them separately. We know too well the mayhem and pain wrought by domestic violence. And sadly, we know there are likely more of these cases coming. There are so many things we know. But conditioned to praise the savvy and successful manipulator of market inefficiencies, we’ve rarely paused to wonder if maybe this thing should be off limits. If perhaps, in the face of understandable motivation and sound accounting, we ought not to exploit this thing. If perhaps, we end up paying a much graver price for baseball than a couple of prospects and an extra year of free agency. If perhaps, burdened with so much knowledge, we know too much to care about it being valuable, rather than decent.

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cmaczkow
12/29
"If perhaps, burdened with so much knowledge, we know too much to care about it being valuable, rather than decent." To take it a step further, I'm confident that "decency" was quantified by the NY front office in terms of potential lost ticket/merchandising revenue from fans turning away (probably temporarily) from the franchise. So, it isn't a question of decency being a different measuring stick, as much as decency being another commodity translated into units of $$$ and factored into the move.
Taldan9
12/29
A very sophisticated analysis. Fortunately, I'm not a Yankee fan, nor do I live in the New York area. I do reside in an AL East city and went to a Yankee game last season. My question for Mr. Cashman is this: What do I say to my daughter in 2016 when Chapman walks on the field?
mblthd
12/29
I don't know what Cashman would say, but I'd say the same thing I'd say about anyone else who walks on a field: just because someone can run fast, jump high, throw/kick a ball well, etc., doesn't mean he or she is a good person. Admire the person's skill level if you like, but let that be the extent of your admiration.
LlarryA
12/29
You tell her: "This is a man who did a bad thing, and the world is watching to see if he has learned his lesson and will not do it again. And hopefully, the attention (if no actual discipline ever results) will convince others not to do such a thing, either."
buckoneil
12/29
If off-the-field crimes truly prevent you from enjoying baseball, you can't possibly enjoy baseball. No team is immune from this plague, just as no team was immune from PED use. This issue is, of course, much more serious than PED use. Unfortunately, it is not limited to baseball. 1 in 4 women in the US will suffer from domestic violence. Read this article to get a glimpse into the tip of the iceberg in terms of recent MLB domestic violence issues: http://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2014/7/28/5936835/ray-rice-chuck-knoblauch-minnesota-twins-mlb-domestic-abuse-violence
casejud
12/30
Its not "limited to baseball"? That kind of like saying "air isn't limited to to just my own house". Almost all domestic violence has absolutely nothing to do with baseball. This whole issue here (and in the NFL) is a rather ridiculous way to address the domestic violence problem in this country. Also, Chuck Knoblauch counts as recent, eh? Funny nobody knows much about Russ Branyan's problems with his wife the past couple of years. Oh yeah, he was out of the big leagues. There isn't all this hand-wringing over domestic violence amonst the commoners.
Grasul
12/29
I liked this article a lot. The use of the word "exploit" at the end I have a difficult time with though. Is acknowledging reality exploitation? Through his actions, Chapman altered his value; to not acknowledge or account for the change is just ignoring events that already happened isn't it? I agree completely though that why Chapman's value changed is sordid and disturbing, I just don't know if acknowledging it is exploitation. I'm not trying to wordsmith too much or defend the Yankees, I just don't see a viable alternative. Again, bravo on the good article.
casejud
12/29
No acknowledging it is not exploiting it. The exploiting comes from the GAINING from it, of course. Everyone knows this, by the way. So, if you had a a thief trying to sell your neighbors bicycle that he stole, for a discount price of $20, are you "acknowledging" that the value of the bike has gone down because it is in the possession if a desperate thief? Yes. You are exploiting when you hand him the $20. I find it very strange that you can't see that. The viable alternative is to value something more than you value making your baseball team better. That's what values ARE!
newsense
12/29
I think that's a poor analogy. You are confusing the neighbor (the Reds) with the thief. What has been stolen here? A better analogy is that your neighbor's bicycle has been damaged by his kid. He doesn't want to be bothered with fixing it or putting up an effort to sell it so you offer him a discounted price of $20 which he is happy to take under the circumstances.
casejud
12/30
Hmm, ok. Except in your analogy nobody is profiting off of someone who did something that was wrong, like in mine I can only surmise that you must believe that nothing wrong was done by Chapman, since acquiring him is as innocent as buying a bike that was broken by accident. I like your style! Lets cut the BS, Chapman is a bargain, and a bargain is a bargain, no matter how you get it! Again, if you "acknowledge" that Chapman did something wrong, then your alternative is to not get involved with him. I'm boggled at the idea that the original poster doesn't even see this as a POSSIBLE way to look at it.
Grasul
12/30
Some pretty sweeping "values" oriented assertions here. Let's get the analogy right at least: There was a property owner, a renter and a buyer. The renter burned down the property. The Reds are the property owner. Chapman is the renter. The Yankees bought the property from the Reds at a discount. Hopefully we can all agree Chapman did something wrong. We can also probably agree that his value has been lessened. That's a done deal, everyone agrees he's not worth as much today as he was six months ago for reasons directly attributable to him. The question is, should there be no possible transaction regarding him? If his new value can't be acknowledged, there is no fair transaction possible. Obviously, a "values" judgment can be made about the Yankees being willing to bring a person into the organization with Chapman's history, and a strident argument against doing so I can respect even if I think its probably a little naïve. That's an entirely different question than Chapman's trade value.
casejud
12/29
It's a very good article, tremendously thought provoking. There are some ironies here though for me. The larger ones, bigger than Aroldis Chapman: The menace, is that the Yankees made this move with the expressed idea that all of YOU, fans will not do anything about it. But, as usual in this free country, you have a choice what you want to do about it. It is still undecided what the cost is for them. If you think this is important, cost them some dollars. My larger question is, is there an epidemic of domestic violence that is not being handled by our legal system that needs to be addressed by MLB. I don't see that there is. Does it set a bad precedent to cost a man dollars without having due process? From the evidence, I see a house of crazy people, doing crazy things. I also see a house that had a very scared woman in it. I see a highly volatile situation that got out of hand. However, I see a whole country of people and houses like this all over this great land. There is lots of things going on folks, from coast to coast. This article gets to the heart of the cold way the system of baseball runs, but it makes me think of the ultimate comedy of the fans, who fund everything. They NEED to get on their high-horse about Chapman to soothe their guilt over the actual values we really have, not the ones we wish we had. I just wish all of the hand-wringing wasn't necessary. If you think Chapman should be in jail and is evil, express this in dollar cost to the Yankees, or better yet, effect change in domestic violence law. I can't help but see this is as a case of taking away the accused's (Chapman's) right to confront his accusers (if there are any now) and have at least some sort of fair hearing on what went down. We all need to have this right of protection if anything unfair happens to any of us, but we are just willing to hand this over because this is an athlete. That might be an even bigger issue than domestic violence, to be honest, because ANYONE can get into a situation where they LOOK like they may have committed a crime, the evidence and law says they didn't, but a group of people think they should be punished anyways. We want to be protected from us!
tearecrules
12/29
I've been reading BP for a little over 15 years and "Players Prefer Presentation" has to be the most consistently uninteresting naval-gazing I can recall reading here. So I have to ask, what does Ms. Rowley actually bring to the table at BP? Her only non-PPP article is a TA that's a bunch of word salad for a fairly simple transaction. She's not tackling any new ground (baseball players are fallible people!), she's not bringing some interesting view to the well-trod ground she's on (Deadspin and Sports on Earth having better writers for the human element), and it's not been discussed that PPP is simply the price we have to pay because she's a great researcher, statistician, or makes a great cup of coffee. I love BP, to whom do I need to send a check so they can afford writers better than VOX cast-offs?
jfranco77
12/30
I can't help but enjoy the irony of this post following an article about voting with your entertainment dollars if you don't like something.
Taldan9
12/30
Send a cheque to any organization that acts against domestic violence and educates ignoramuses who know nothing about domestic violence.
NYYanks826
12/31
Jilted ex-lover or something?
edgargiulo
12/30
Your point is the most valid yet presented. All are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The authorities did not feel the actual evidence was sufficient to charge Chapman, so until proven otherwise, he is innocent under the law The article presumes guilt, but unfortunately, when it comes to accusations of domestic or rape, people like this author forget the basic premise of our legal system. He may, in fact, be guilty, but facts, not opinion, is the basis for conviction of a supposed crime
Taldan9
1/01
A very trite, rather childish response. Employers make "judgements" on the basis of their "convictions" every day. Cashman made a mistake-Yankee fans are going to be cheering this creature very soon. By the way, the 8 bullets in Chapman's garage wall came with the house, in your opinion?