CHICAGO -- There are many layers to the deal that brought lefty Aroldis Chapman to the Chicago Cubs, starting with the team's decision to trade for a player who recently served a 30-game suspension under baseball’s new domestic violence policy.
On the field, the Cubs are simply going for it. Team president Theo Epstein made a simple declaration in addressing reporters on Monday, not long after consummating the deal that sent four players, including the Cubs’ No.1 prospect, to the New York Yankees:
“If not now, when?” Epstein said.
He has a point. If the Cubs aren’t going to shore up their lone weakness with one of the best in the game, why go through the exercise of drafting and signing players who may or may never reach the big leagues with their team? To wait for another deal in another season which may or may not have as much promise?
On Monday, Epstein sat in the visitors’ dugout at U.S. Cellular Field addressing reporters for over 30 minutes in advance of Chapman’s arrival on Tuesday. Here are the highlights:
The process in trading for Chapman given his recent history and suspension: The Cubs say they did their due diligence in asking for permission to talk to Chapman before the deal could be struck. They were satisfied with what they heard and what they found in their own investigation.
“We gave that serious, thoughtful, careful consideration over an extended period of time,” Epstein said. “And we take the issue of character very seriously and continue to. Obviously, we take the issue of domestic violence very seriously, so it was our responsibility to look into this thoroughly, to look at all the facts.
"In the end, it was our decision, and we decided that it was appropriate to trade for a player who has accepted his discipline, has already been disciplined by Major League Baseball, who expressed his sorrow and his regret for the incident in a statement at the time, in a meaningful statement today and even more importantly, to me and [owner] Tom [Ricketts] directly today, over the phone, before we were willing to consummate the trade.”
The Cubs claim their conversation with Chapman on Monday was key.
“If we had not been satisfied by what we heard from Aroldis, we would not have moved forward on those grounds,” Epstein said. “Aroldis was really heartfelt in that conversation, and I think you can see from his statement that he’s taking responsibility. He said he has regret, that he’s sorry, that he’s learned from the incident, that he's grown from the aftermath from the incident. He’s been a good teammate and a good citizen in his months with the Yankees, and we expect that to continue in his months with the Cubs.”
Domestic violence prevention: Epstein made a point of reminding people the Cubs are sensitive to the topic of domestic violence.
“My first year, in 2012, we began a program where every single member of baseball operations, players, coaches, scouts, trainers, front office people, have to undergo annual domestic violence training,” he explained. “Initially, we used a group called Mentors in Violence Protection, MVP, a group I had worked with in the past with the Red Sox. And this is real training to create awareness and, most importantly, to increase prevention of these types of episodes. Because it is a real problem. It’s a real problem in society, and it’s a real problem in sports.
“We did it for the entire baseball operations. For the last two years, we’ve done it for every single member of the organization, business side, baseball side, front office, scouts, players, everybody, including the Dominican Republic.”
Every season is sacred: This was one of Epstein’s sayings, even while rebuilding, though now it carries more meaning. Next year is not guaranteed to anyone, and the Cubs have the team to win it all right now. Chapman makes them even better.
“We feel like we have a chance to do something special, but there’s a lot of work ahead to finish strong down the stretch and make sure we get into the postseason,” Epstein said. “And then the goal is to win three postseason series. And that’s not an easy thing to do. You need dynamic players.
"We felt like we really could benefit from an elite talent, a game-changing pitcher like Aroldis Chapman. As you get down the stretch into the big games and hopefully into the postseason, those types of late-inning relievers take an even more significant role, even greater value, available to pitch every game, changing the scope of the game and the outlook of the game.”
Did the Cubs give up too much for a rental? The question is a legitimate one, but less so when considering what’s at stake, according to Epstein. This is where long-term and short-term needs clash. Short term won out, rather easily, it sounds like.
“Every chance to win is sacred, but we’re always going to take the long view,” Epstein explained. “When those two perspectives clash, I’m going to err on the side of the long term as we’re building up this organization. I still value the long term, and I still think every chance to win is sacred. And now, given where we are, again, if not now, when? Given where we are, when those two perspectives clash, long term and a chance to win now, we’re going to err on the side of a chance to win now.”
The Yankees wanted more pitching: The Cubs don’t have enough young pitching for their own needs, so they certainly don’t have it to use as a trade chip. The sides got “creative.”
“They were looking for upper-level starting pitching, major league-ready-type starting pitching,” Epstein said. “Since we didn’t have that to offer them, we had to get creative with how we could structure a package. Gleyber Torres is a player, for good reason, who has been of interest to them for a while. Adam Warren plays the role of substituting for that upper-level major league starting pitching, because he’s a pitcher who has had tremendous success in New York. So he’s able to step right in and help their major league club.”
One and done: Epstein admitted there was no movement toward a contract extension before the trade, and it’s doubtful Chapman would be re-signed by the Cubs, though the season has to play itself out.
“That hasn’t come up as a consideration yet,” Epstein said. “Today, and the trade, is really about 2016 and a show of faith in the other 24 guys and trying to maximize their chances of getting in the postseason and winning three postseason series.”
What’s next: Epstein said the team would take a day to see how things shake out before engaging other teams in trade discussions again.
“We’re going to take a step back tonight,” Epstein said. “We’ve been wrapped up in this for several days. There’s still a good amount of time before the trade deadline, so we’re going to engage with every other team and see if there’s an opportunity to get better. Either tweaks to the roster now, but I’d say it’s more focused on getting additional depth for this season and possibly making a move that makes sense for our longer-term picture, next season and beyond.”
Interpret that as looking for young starting pitching, which the Cubs have been trying to obtain for a while now, but the asking price has been too high.
“We couldn’t justify the asking price in our minds,” Epstein said. “They were sort of core, foundational pieces off our major league team in order to make those trades happen. That’s when we got more aggressive on Chapman, who we think is a game-changing type of pitcher, albeit one with only a partial season of control left.”