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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #10: Aroldis Chapman gets baseball’s first domestic violence suspension

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In August of 2015, Major League Baseball announced its new, comprehensive policy regarding players involved in domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases. While there are treatment and counseling provisions to the policy, most people were curious about the discipline aspect of it all, as players had rarely been disciplined for ugly, off-the-field transgressions and, when they were, never consistently.

As for that discipline: there was to be no minimum or maximum penalty, but rather the Commissioner could issue the discipline “he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct.” More importantly the league, no doubt aware that prosecuting domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases can be a difficult matter, even when violence or bad behavior has unquestionably occurred, declared that discipline would not be contingent on an arrest or a conviction.

The league would have around two months after the announcement before having to put the policy into action. It would be over six months before they’d levy their first suspension.

On October 30, then-Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman was alleged to have pushed and choked his girlfriend in his home before firing off at least eight gunshots in his garage. Someone called the police. When police officers arrived, his girlfriend was found cowering in the bushes, frightened by what had transpired. Chapman was not arrested on that night and no charges were filed, but something ugly had definitely occurred.

The incident would not be known to the public until December, however, when a trade of Chapman to Los Angeles was aborted after the Dodgers found out about the incident. Soon after, Chapman was traded to the Yankees, who acquired arguably the game’s best closer at a discount price by virtue of the controversy surrounding him. When they did so, they were aware that he faced discipline from Major League Baseball and were willing to be without him for a time. Indeed, being without him for an extended time actually worked in the Yankees favor, potentially delaying Chapman’s free agency for another year, keeping him under team control.

As it was, the discipline came down on March 1. Chapman would have to sit out 30 games. It was an agreed-to suspension with Chapman giving up his right to appeal, most likely in exchange for a lighter suspension than MLB was first inclined to give. Such a thing would prove to be in Major League Baseball’s best interests too, as it set a precedent for future players to negotiate their suspension and keep the league’s discipline away from arbitrators who may overturn or lessen the league’s sanctions.

Chapman rejoined the Yankees in early May. On July 25 he was traded to the Cubs, who he helped to a World Series title. A couple of weeks ago he signed back with the Yankees as a free agent on the largest contract ever given to a relief pitcher. Paying that price was probably a lot more palatable to the Yankees given that they got Chapman cheaply the winter before and got a package of excellent prospects from the Cubs for him in the deal last summer. For New York, Chapman’s acts at his home on October 30, 2015 turned out to be a cornerstone of their rebuild.  Given the World Series ring and the giant contract, it’s fair to say that Chapman’s career was not harmed in any way by his suspension either.

Reasonable people may disagree as to whether 30 days was a large enough penalty for Chapman’s actions, but Chapman was the first player suspended by Major League Baseball under the domestic violence policy.

Keuchel apologizes for 2017 Astros’ sign-stealing scandal

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CHICAGO — Dallas Keuchel has become the first member of the 2017 Houston Astros to offer a public apology for the team’s sign-stealing scheme during their run to the World Series championship.

Speaking Friday at the fan convention for the Chicago White Sox, who signed the left-hander to a $55.5 million, three-year contract in December, Keuchel said he felt what happened was blown out of proportion, but he was sorry.

“I’m not going to go into specific detail, but during the course of the playoffs in `17, everybody was using multiple signs,” Keuchel said, “I mean, for factual purposes, when there’s nobody on base, when in the history of major league baseball has there been multiple signs?

“It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point and time,” the former AL Cy Young Award winner said. “Was it against the rules? Yes it was, and I personally am sorry for what’s come about, the whole situation.”

An investigation by Major League Baseball found the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

The process started in 2017, according to baseball’s investigation, and continued through the 2018 season. Houston won the franchise’s first championship three years ago, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series, and made it to the AL Championship Series in 2018.

“To the extent of the whole situation back then, I can tell you that not every game there was signs being stolen,” Keuchel said. “Some guys did a really good job, and sometimes we did as a group have signs but we still couldn’t hit the pitcher. So it wasn’t like every game we had everything going on.

“So at that point that’s when the whole system, it really works, a little bit, but at the same time, there was a human element where some guys were better than our hitters.”

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch were suspended and then fired in the aftermath of MLB’s investigation, and the fallout likely will continue into the season. Managers Alex Cora of the Red Sox and Carlos Beltran of the Mets also lost their jobs over their role in the scheme, and Astros stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve faced heavy criticism for their first public comments after the investigation.

Oakland right-hander Mike Fiers also could be headed for an icy reception in some corners of the sport. MLB began its probe after Fiers, who played for the Astros in 2017, told The Athletic about the team’s scheme to steal signs.

Asked about Fiers, Keuchel called it a “tough subject” because of baseball’s tight-knit community in the locker room.

“It sucks to the extent of the clubhouse rule was broken and that’s where I’ll go with that,” Keuchel said. “I don’t really have much else to say about Mike.”