NASHVILLE – Monday afternoon, Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman appeared to be one the most alluring trade chips in baseball, a flame-throwing left-hander at the forefront of the sport’s annual winter meetings. One day later, Chapman suddenly presented one of the first high-profile tests of the domestic violence policy Major League Baseball introduced in August, provoked a clumsy performance from the Washington Nationals’ new manager and prompted discussion within the sport over how the Reds conducted trade discussions.
According to a police report first obtained Monday by Yahoo Sports, a girlfriend accused Chapman of choking her on Oct. 30 inside Chapman’s Davie, Fla., home. Chapman fired eight gun shots inside his garage, according to the report, and his girlfriend hid in bushes outside the house. Police made no arrests “due to conflicting stories and a lack of cooperation from all parties involved,” the report said. The assistant state attorney said a lack of evidence would prevent him from charging Chapman, and an attorney for Chapman denied the allegations.
From a strictly baseball standpoint, the public surfacing of the domestic incident scuttled a widely reported trade that would have sent Chapman, the hardest-throwing pitcher in baseball history, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for two prospects. From a broader view, the report forced baseball to determine how it would handle a player accused of domestic violence but neither arrested nor charged.
“There’s no grass growing under anybody’s feet here,” MLB Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre said here. “We’re in the process of getting all information that’s necessary. So there are investigations being conducted, and I’m not sure it would be any quicker during the season.”
Chapman is not the first player to come under scrutiny of baseball’s new policy. On Oct. 31, Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was arrested and charged with assaulting his wife in a Hawaii hotel. MLB is also investigating accusations that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig shoved his sister at a bar in Miami.
MLB launched its own investigation into Chapman’s incident, league officials said Monday. In each case, the league can’t require third parties to cooperate, making resolutions more difficult. Dan Halem, MLB’s chief legal officer, said here Tuesday the league would like to complete the process before spring training, though that may not be possible.
“We understand the need to complete these as quickly as possible,” Halem said. “You’ve got to work through channels.”
Under its domestic violence policy – adopted jointly with the players’ union over the summer — Commissioner Rob Manfred has broad disciplinary powers, with no minimum or maximum penalty for offenders. Manfred can issue fines and suspensions, and players can appeal them to an arbitration panel. There are, Halem said, a broad array of factors Manfred could consider: whether weapons were involved, whether an arrest was made, etc. But he said the policy “does not preclude us from taking action based on whether [a player] was arrested or is found guilty,” and there is no precedent to show how Manfred will handle the process.
The incident added to Chapman’s off-field troubles. Police had been called to Chapman’s residence twice earlier this year, once for a “burglary” in which an ex-girlfriend claimed to enter with a key to retrieve her things, and once for a noise-ordinance violation. Court records show Chapman also is facing two paternity claims filed by two different women in Broward County, Fla.
New Nationals Manager Dusty Baker, who managed the Reds as Chapman broke into the majors in 2010 shortly after defecting from Cuba, vouched for Chapman’s character as he addressed reporters at the Gaylord Opryland Resort here.
“He’s a heck of a guy,” Baker said. “I mean, a heck of a guy. I’ll go on record and say I wouldn’t mind having Chapman. He is a tremendous young man with a great family, mom and dad, and what he went through to get here and what his family had to go through to get here. I was with him through the whole process.
“There was a couple times when I had to stop him from quitting or going back to Cuba because he was lonely for his family. So I went through a lot of stuff with Chapman. I got nothing but love for the young man.”
Later, Baker defended Chapman, though he said he had not read the report.
“Who’s to say the allegations are true, number one?” Baker said. “And who’s to say what you would have done or what caused the problem?”
Asked about MLB’s new policy in general, Baker provided another gauche response.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Baker said. “I mean, I got a buddy at home that’s being abused by his wife. So I think this policy needs to go further than the player. I think the policy should go to whoever’s involved. Sometimes abusers don’t always have pants on. I think we need to get them both in a room and try to come up with something. It’s a bad situation. That’s the first thing my momma told me when I was a kid: Don’t hit a woman, even my sister. Man, I was like, ‘You better leave me alone before I tell my momma.’ ”
Baker later issued what the Nationals labeled a “clarification” when he spoke to MLB Network Radio.
“There’s no way that I would ever condone domestic violence,” Baker said. “No way. … We gotta stop it, big-time. I’m hoping that [Chapman] is innocent.”
As the league office grappled with how to handle the allegations against Chapman, some front offices wondered what the Reds knew about the most recent incident and whether they had violated an unspoken protocol between clubs.
Officials from three teams involved in trade discussions regarding Chapman said the Reds did not inform them of Chapman’s incident. Reds President Walt Jocketty told Cincinnati reporters that the team did not know of the incident before Monday, a claim some executives viewed with skepticism.
Monday night, the Boston Globe reported that the Red Sox had backed away from a possible trade for Chapman because a background check surfaced concerns. An American League executive with another team involved in Chapman trade talks said his team had “an inkling” that Chapman had been involved in an incident based on the team’s own background check. The executive said his team wonders if the Reds knew about the allegations against Chapman.
A National League executive with a team previously interested in Chapman said his team didn’t know about the incident and didn’t know the Reds’ intentions in trying to trade him. He said teams should do their own background research on players, but also that an incident as significant as Chapman’s warrants disclosure. In his experience, he had shared information with potential trade partners about players’ legal and personal matters that weren’t public knowledge – ranging from DUI arrests to family issues.
“Each team should do homework,” the executive said. “But serious things should be brought up by the teams. I wouldn’t do that to someone and wouldn’t want them to do it to me.”
Kilgore reported from Washington; Will Hobson contributed to this story from Washington.