Some of Aroldis Chapman's teammates with the Cincinnati Reds found him to be entirely mysterious, someone they really didn't know anything about except for those 8-10 minutes he climbed the mound two or three times a week. The tall left-hander mostly kept to himself in the clubhouse and while traveling, before he was summoned out of the bullpen to throw 100 mph fastballs.
Then, after the high-fives and shared smiles, Chapman would revert back to his preferred state of privacy, which is why, after more than five years playing for Cincinnati, some of his co-workers feel like they have no idea who Chapman really is.
But the New York Yankees have bought into this 6-foot-4 enigma because of what they know -- that he's one of the most dynamic relievers in baseball -- and in spite of what they don't. In doing so, they may have assembled the best bullpen ever and, simultaneously, placed the good name of their business at risk.
When Yankees general manager Brian Cashman spoke to reporters after the trade Monday, he chose his words carefully when explaining the lengths the Yankees took in investigating Chapman's background. Chapman is being investigated by Major League Baseball for an alleged domestic violence incident in October, and because commissioner Rob Manfred hasn't rendered any discipline under MLB's new domestic violence policy, the Yankees really don't know if Chapman will be suspended. Nor do they know how long Chapman would be unavailable to them at the outset of the season -- whether it would be two days or two months.
The Yankees don't know, with any certainty, if more evidence will emerge and engender even more criticism for the franchise than what it has already endured the past 48 hours. For instance, a council speaker threatened a boycott of the Yankees.
Other teams, like the Red Sox and Dodgers, discussed possible deals for Chapman, but they backed away after learning of the October incident.
The Reds might not know Chapman well, but they know him better than any other team. And rather than wait for clarity in the MLB investigation and for the possibility that the left-hander's trade value could be restored, they aggressively moved to dump him. That lowered trade rate is why the Yankees decided to make the move. They gave up young players to get Chapman, but none considered to be anything close to a major prospect.
Nonetheless, Chapman represents a significant gamble.
Working in New York's favor is that there has been no arrest stemming from the October incident, meaning Chapman might face a minimal or even no suspension. Such a scenario would allow Chapman to then anchor what could be the most dynamic bullpen in MLB history, with Chapman serving as the closer and Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances working mostly as setup men.
When Cashman first began wooing Miller last year in free agency, he was greatly impressed by Miller's intelligence and by his personality. When he reached out to Miller the other day to give him a heads-up about the Chapman deal, the response from the veteran left-hander was as Cashman expected: "I'm in for whatever's best for the team," Miller said.
Sitting in the Yankees' clubhouse early in the 2015 season, Miller explained why he wasn't fretting about whether he was the closer. Miller, now age 30, had just signed a lucrative four-year deal with the Yankees, and as far as he was concerned, manager Joe Girardi could use him any way he wanted. He had been paid well to pitch for the Yankees, and he would do what he was asked to do.
Some rival officials privately said after the Yankees' acquisition of Chapman that they expect the Yankees to now trade Miller, perhaps for the kind of rotation help the team needs. Cashman, however, said he intends to keep Chapman, Miller and Betances, who ranked first, second and third, respectively, in K/9 rate in 2015.
Ideally, Chapman, Miller and Betances will share the load and provide Girardi with so much depth that the manager wouldn't feel compelled to chronically overuse his relievers, which is what happened with Betances and Miller last season. New York would in turn enter meaningful games in August and September with the trio well-rested and Girardi able to call on one of them as early as the sixth inning before closing with Chapman and his flurry of strikeouts.
The best-case scenario for the Yankees is that, when playing the Red Sox, New York's parting gift for David Ortiz will be a bunch of impossible at-bats against Miller, Betances and Chapman.
But there are worst-case scenarios as well, and the Yankees made this deal without knowing exactly what those could be. Perhaps it's a suspension far beyond expectation. Or the emergence of charges or more evidence or incident reports or cell-phone video. Or something the Yankees haven't even considered. The circumstances with NFL players Ray Rice and Greg Hardy demonstrated that.
The prudent choice would've been to follow the Dodgers and Red Sox's lead and back away from Chapman, even at the discounted price. The Yankees didn't have to have Chapman, just as the Dodgers didn't have to pair him with Kenley Jansen. With the free-agent market prices seemingly frozen and quality players still unsigned, there could be other cost-conscious ways for the team to get better in the weeks ahead.
But the Yankees made their choice with eyes wide open. And in so doing, they knowingly forfeited all rights to excuses if this turns out badly because of off-field problems.