As most are aware, Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman was alleged to have pushed and choked his girlfriend in his home on October 30 before firing off at least eight gunshots in his garage. He was not arrested on that night, however, and no charges were filed. From a law enforcement perspective, the matter is over.
Major League Baseball, however, has made it clear that their new domestic violence policy sets forth a higher standard than that set by law enforcement and it has entered into an agreement with its employees which allows it to impose discipline arising out of domestic violence situations even if the employee is not charged with a crime. To that end, the league continues to investigate the Chapman case and may very well suspend Chapman.
Today, as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training in Tampa, Chapman was asked about the situation and he said he will appeal if he is suspended under MLB’s new domestic violence policy, as is his right. If and when that happens, it will be a really big deal for Major League Baseball, Chapman and the new domestic violence policy.
Chapman was not the first player to have been involved in a domestic violence incident after the policy was enacted. Jose Reyes was. But given that Reyes’ case is going to trial, MLB may wait longer to impose discipline on him. That could mean that Chapman will be the first and, as the first, his case will take on tremendous significance.
The policy sets forth no minimum or maximum penalty. Rather, Rob Manfred must issue the discipline “he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct.” He is unshackled by anything other than his conscience. The discipline he imposes on Chapman, if any, will set a precedent by which all future domestic violence incidents are judged. There will be obvious adjustments for the facts and circumstances of each case, but Chapman is setting the bogey. Likewise, Chapman’s appeal will set the precedent for the breadth of Manfred’s discretion and will signal to all players whether a vigorous appeal and all that entails makes sense.
This is a big, big moment for Rob Manfred. Punish Chapman heavily in order to send a message and an arbitration panel could undercut him. Punish Chapman too lightly and he runs the risk of appearing to be soft on domestic violence. All of this is magnified by the fact that Chapman is a superstar player on the league’s marquee franchise and it will covered by more reporters than you can shake a stick at.
My guess would be that Manfred goes heavy, anticipating that a panel may back some time off of the suspension, leaving Chapman with a sentence the league can live with. But we really don’t know. I wonder if even Manfred knows what he’ll do yet.