Commissioner Rob Manfred's first verdicts in alleged domestic-violence cases are likely to come down today or the next couple of days, and folks within the game -- players, executives, agents -- are curious about how tightly his decisions will be tethered to established facts.
Because in the eyes of a lot of people in the game, the domestic-violence policy negotiated by Manfred and the union has created a lot of leeway for someone in Manfred's position to abuse his authority, to overreach, to dole out discipline more on perception than the facts of each case.
"It's actually kind of scary," said one agent. "He's in a position to play God with the lives of some of these guys."
To date, Manfred has adhered to a conservative allegiance to process, which he demonstrated with his handling of Pete Rose. His team went through a deliberate and dogged review of the facts in the Rose case; Manfred met with the Hit King and heard him out, respectfully, going so far as to letting him change his answer about whether he still bets on baseball; and months later, Manfred issued his decision, which read like a court opinion, rooted in logic-based detail.
Manfred is following a similar approach in the Jose Reyes case, giving the player administrative leave until his abuse case is resolved; once Reyes' legal process is complete, Manfred and MLB will be in position to carefully examine the established facts in that case.
With Aroldis Chapman and Yasiel Puig, decisions that could come down as soon as today, Manfred has the opportunity to win public-relations points. He has the opportunity to make a loud statement about baseball's perspective of domestic violence, and probably nothing would feel better than to come down with a sledgehammer decision that resonates and gets a lot of attention.
But in a sense, MLB and the union have already established their own precedent for action, by negotiating a policy before being dragged into action in the way the NFL was by the Ray Rice case.
If Manfred wants to make a statement with a disciplinary action, it could be that the Reyes case is better suited, because there are more known facts. Puig has not been charged following his December incident (and in fact, he served as a goodwill ambassador for MLB after that situation). Chapman was not charged either, and he has made it clear he will appeal any penalty handed down by Manfred.
From David Lennon's column about Chapman today:
Despite MLB's ongoing investigation, Chapman already has publicly revealed his pre-emptive plan to appeal -- without even knowing the punishment -- and flatly stated Tuesday his motive for that was obvious.
"I haven't hurt anybody," Chapman said through his interpreter.
That should be good news, right? If Chapman is to be believed, then maybe Broward County's decision not to pursue domestic-violence charges against him was indeed a reflection of flimsy evidence rather than others muddying the water with conflicting testimony and uncooperative witnesses.
But [manager Joe] Girardi, oddly enough, didn't immediately rally around Chapman's words. After admitting Tuesday that he finally did read the police report, the Yankees' manager acknowledged the unseemly episode was too complicated to be dismissed by a five-minute conversation at Chapman's locker, even with the denial.
"Obviously, you hope that's the case," Girardi said. "And it appears that -- from what I read -- I don't think there were marks on her. But abuse doesn't always need to be physical. It's not always physical. There's all kinds of abuse. But you hope that's the case."
Under the terms of MLB's policy, Manfred has the latitude to level heavy discipline on Chapman. He could make a strong statement; he could set a big-number precedent.
But unless Major League Baseball has been able to establish damning facts above and beyond generated by the authorities who decided not to charge Chapman, Manfred might have difficulty justifying a long suspension, and in the eyes of some players, agents and evaluators, he could open a Pandora's box.