Cubs

Cubs make business decision to look beyond Aroldis Chapman’s domestic violence suspension

Cubs make business decision to look beyond Aroldis Chapman’s domestic violence suspension

Within three minutes of the press release officially announcing the Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees on Monday afternoon, the Cubs sent another e-mail to their media distribution list, issuing statements from the superstar closer and chairman Tom Ricketts that didn’t really say much about the business decision to look beyond a domestic violence suspension.

But the Chapman rollout had to address an ugly incident from his personal history, how the Yankees acquired him over the winter from the Cincinnati Reds at such a discount, but didn’t deploy him in a real game until May 9.

That’s why president of baseball operations Theo Epstein answered questions for more than 33 minutes, sitting in U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting dugout before a 5-4 walk-off loss to the White Sox, trying to explain the due diligence, moral calculus and win-now mentality.

“I don’t feel like we compromised integrity in making this move,” Epstein said. “We approached it as thoroughly as we did – and gave it as much careful consideration as we did and had a genuine debate about it for weeks – because we wanted to make sure we preserve our integrity as an organization.”

Chapman released statements in English and Spanish, thanking the Yankees for “trusting and supporting me” and acknowledging the 30-game punishment he served this season after a domestic dispute inside his South Florida home on Oct. 30, 2015, becoming a test case for Major League Baseball’s new policy.

Chapman was accused of choking his girlfriend and reportedly fired eight gunshots inside his garage, though the Broward County State Attorney’s Office ultimately decided to not file criminal charges.

“I regret that I did not exercise better judgment,” Chapman said, “and for that I am truly sorry. Looking back, I feel I have learned from this matter and have grown as a person. My girlfriend and I have worked hard to strengthen our relationship, to raise our daughter together and would appreciate the opportunity to move forward without revisiting an event we consider part of our past.

“Out of respect for my family, I will not comment any further on this matter.”

[MORE: Cubs send win-now message with blockbuster trade for Aroldis Chapman]

Chapman is expected to join the team on Tuesday and face the media on the South Side. MLB allowed Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and Ricketts – who had already consulted with commissioner Rob Manfred – to speak with Chapman over the phone on Monday before the Cubs and Yankees formalized the trade.

“I shared with him the high expectations we set for our players and staff both on and off the field,” Ricketts said. “Aroldis indicated he is comfortable with meeting those expectations.”

Of course, Chapman would be on his best behavior in a contract year – and will be highly motivated in his final months before cashing in as a free agent – but he impressed people around the Yankees with his demeanor, dominant performances and ability to handle New York.

“We’re going to welcome him in here with open arms,” said catcher David Ross, who got a glowing scouting report on Chapman from Yankee leader/good friend Brian McCann. “I don’t like to prejudge guys on their past.

“We’re excited to get him and give him a clean slate. Hopefully, he has a phenomenal time here in Chicago.”

[RELATED: How Joe Maddon plans to unleash Chapman on Cubs bullpen]

If the Cubs didn’t acquire Chapman, they feared he might have landed with a contender like the Washington Nationals or San Francisco Giants and blown their hitters away in October with 105-mph fastballs. This became the point in the Wrigleyville rebuild to take the risk – and maybe tone down some of the rhetoric about how the Cubs do things “The Right Way” and are such great neighbors and so family friendly.

“Those of you who have been around us for five years know that character is a major consideration in every transaction we make,” Epstein said. “That’s why we spent so much time investigating and talking to him. In fact, I have never believed more strongly in the character that we have in this clubhouse and at our core as an organization.

“I think that allows us to maybe be that forum for players who’ve been through some things and are looking to grow. He was granted a second chance by Major League Baseball and by the Yankees.

“With our culture – and the guys we have in there – maybe we’re good for him to continue that process. We are not sacrificing our integrity in any way or compromising or completely turning our back on (what we believe). I understand that people are going to see it different ways (and) I respect that.”

This is business, and this transaction will be judged on whether or not the Cubs win the World Series this year.

“I cannot wait to take the mound at Wrigley Field,” Chapman said, “and look forward to helping my teammates deliver a championship to Chicago.”

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are we seeing a playoff preview between the Cubs and Dodgers?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Are we seeing a playoff preview between the Cubs and Dodgers?

Kap is joined by Doug Glanville, Nick Friedell, and Seth Gruen. The guys preview the NLCS rematch at Wrigley between the Cubs and Dodgers, discuss Kris Bryant's return to the leadoff spot, and consider the possibility of a 6-man rotation upon Darvish's return from the DL.

Plus, the guys weigh in on the Bulls' options in the NBA Draft on Thursday.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live podcast here