The Aroldis Chapman trade will make the Cubs better. It will make the Yankees' farm system better. It's a trade for a pitcher who throws 105 mph, and it's a trade for a player who was suspended for choking a woman. It's practical and grotesque, even if we saw it coming.
It's a fascinating trade in baseball terms, but it's overshadowed by the real-world implications. The Cubs did what most teams didn't want to do in December, which is pretend Chapman's pitching was the only thing that mattered. They weren't the first team to take that chance, ask their fans to ignore whatever misgivings they might have, and be rewarded thoroughly for it. That was exactly what happened for the Yankees.
The Cubs’ trade for Aroldis Chapman in a sentence is this: Flags fly forever. And that's not always something to be proud of.
It’s a cliché, yes, but if it wasn’t invented for the Cubs, it should have been. The very vocal minority of Cubs fans complaining about the cost of a rental reliever is quite entertaining from the outside. Because they’re right, in a way. There’s only so much a one-inning reliever can do for a team’s postseason hopes, but there are several ways that Gleyber Torres might help a postseason team for the next decade if he’s as good as he’s supposed to be.
Flags fly forever, so that’s why the Cubs are OK with trading a piece of their soul to be named later, too. This is a cynical move to acquire a player with a domestic violence suspension because he throws baseballs harder than everyone else. There's no way to feel good about it from any perspective.
There's a baseball argument against trading for Chapman. To make up a scenario, pretend Cubs fans had the ability to rewind the clock back to 2008 and retry the NLDS, this time with Mariano Rivera. All they would need to give up was ever having Kris Bryant. It wouldn’t fly with anyone. And if you’re predicting stardom for Torres (or any of the other prospects in the deal), be angry about the deal. It really doesn’t boost the Cubs’ chances as much as you might think, considering they already had the ninth inning locked down.
There's also a baseball argument for making this trade. This collection of talent, this open window, isn’t something to take for granted. Yes, just about everyone apart from Ben Zobrist is a tadpole, a ludicrously young piece of the present and future. It can all fall apart next year, though. The pitching is good now. Almost everyone is healthy now. And what you can’t have happen is a meltdown in the World Series, so close to the realization of a dream, with "Well, at least we have this projectable teenager in Class-A" as your main consolation prize.
There was one chance for the 2016 Cubs to add one of the very best players in baseball at his respective position. They weren’t getting Clayton Kershaw. They wouldn’t have a place for Miguel Cabrera. The Angels aren’t trading Mike Trout. But they could get Aroldis Chapman. It was realistic, it was attainable, and flags fly forever. The one above Wrigley Field would glow so bright, you can see it from space.
Flags fly forever, so that’s why the Cubs are OK with sweeping Chapman's domestic violence and subsequent suspension under the rug, which they likely weren't willing to do before the season started. He doesn't seem remorseful for choking a woman and firing a gun in his garage to blow off steam/intimidate/any other horrifying explanation, and there are already eggs who will chase you down if you bring this point up as a negative. If you’re thinking it’s not a big deal, you have some pretty miserable bedfellows.
It is a big deal. The flag becomes more important than anything else because it flies forever. It’s so powerful that it makes an entire organization tell its fan base that winning is more important than any real-life concerns. They’re not going to stop domestic violence, but they can raise that flag above the ballpark roof, so what’s a little normalization and looking the other way? It’s like, you know, choosing not to recycle one plastic water bottle. It’s not going to save the world either way!
But that’s way too glib. The Cubs, along with other teams in professional sports, do more to normalize and brush off the effects and consequences of domestic violence than just about any part of society. They have the platform, the voice to take a stand, and by not, they’re taking a much different stand.
On the other hand, though, flags fly forever. So.
Here's the Yankees’ trade of Aroldis Chapman in a sentence: We told you it would all blow over.
The Yankees made a cynical move to get Chapman, swooping in after his trade value was devastated. The Dodgers had a deal in place, but they backed off because they didn’t want to be associated with domestic violence. Remember this tone-deaf article from the offseason?
"I know we can’t touch him," a high-ranking National League executive said. "Our owner would never go for that. And I’m getting the sense from other teams that they feel the same way.
"Yeah, we know talent can cover up some character flaws, but domestic violence is such a hot topic now."
"Ugh, if only it had been murder, which is so 1992, we could have snuck him in. But people are just buzzing about this wild new trend of choking women, so we have to back off."
Then the Yankees said, nah, it’ll all blow over. Talent is talent. So they nabbed one of the better relievers in baseball for pennies on the dollar, then sold him at a huge profit when their season didn’t work out as planned. They were cynical, and they were absolutely right. Not nearly enough people cared. They certainly won’t care if Torres is a star in five years. Where’d he come from again? Some trade or something, I don’t know.
I mean, look at the horrible future the Cubs are going to have to contend with:
Aroldis Chapman gets 'incredible' greeting from Yankees fans in Bronx debut
See what you’ve done, Cubs? You’re setting yourself up for incredible greetings. The horror, the horror.
Turning an undervalued asset into one of baseball’s best prospects within six months is always a great strategy. Just don’t think about the repugnant cynicism it took to jump the market. But if the Yankees didn’t do it, someone else would have. The lesson is, and always will be, "See? We told you it would all blow over."
Finally, we get to the Reds’ offseason trade of Aroldis Chapman in a sentence: When you lose all of your leverage, maybe it’s a good idea to step back and reevaluate your position.
Unless the Reds were worried about Chapman physically, which is possible, there was absolutely no reason to trade him when his value was at its lowest. Well, there was a reason, which is to get him out of the organization and send a message. If that’s the case, though, what was their actual reward? The Yankees’ farm improved tremendously. The Reds’ didn’t. Flags fly forever, everything will blow over, and the consolation prize of feeling good as an organization that stands for something will last for five seconds these days.
I’m not saying it’s right. But where’s the incentive for a team to do the right thing? The tactically sound move would have been to withdraw Chapman from the market and revisit trade ideas in June or July after a strong start to the season. The ethical move might have been to say, "Not in our clubhouse." I’m not saying that’s definitely the reason the Reds traded Chapman in December, but if it was, all it did was give the Yankees a better chance at winning for the next decade. The next time this happens, you’d better believe the team in question will remember the Reds as a cautionary tale.
So the Reds should have looked out for themselves. Just like the Cubs. Just like the Yankees. That’s the trade in one sentence: Worry about yourself because no one else will give a crap in six months.
That’s how we should always act, really. It’s a motto for these troubled times. Forget about everyone else. Focus on what works for you. Because if you don’t take whatever you can get, someone else will.
I don’t see how that worldview can possibly backfire.
The Cubs got better for 2016. The Yankees got better for years to come. The Reds have the learning lesson of a mishandled situation. We’ll see if there are any flags to fly forever. And if there are, don’t worry. It’ll all blow over. We’ll be back here in a year or five to write the same damned article, and it will have just as much impact. Which is to say, absolutely none.