By late July 2016, the Cubs were cruising toward what seemed to be an easy N.L. Central title.
But there was one thing missing, thought Theo Epstein and the front office — a lockdown closer.
Hector Rondon, who had done the job well in 2015, struggled in 2016. He’d lost the confidence of his manager.
The acquisition was controversial because of the domestic violence accusations against Chapman, for which he served a 30-game suspension at the beginning of the 2016 season. Many Cubs fans didn’t want to accept Chapman as the supposed “final piece of the puzzle,” particularly female fans.
The Cubs quickly issued statements to try to quell the controversy.
“I want to thank the New York Yankees for trusting and supporting me, and I wish nothing but the best for the Yankees organization and my former teammates,” said Chapman. “I am excited about today’s trade and look forward to joining the Chicago Cubs and meeting my new teammates. It is a privilege to wear the Cubs uniform and to play for the fans of Chicago.
“As you know, earlier this year I accepted and served a 30-game suspension from Major League Baseball resulting from my actions of October 30, 2015. I regret that I did not exercise better judgment 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.
“I cannot wait to take the mound at Wrigley Field and look forward to helping my teammates deliver a championship to Chicago.”
From Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts:
“Obviously, we are aware of the circumstances surrounding Aroldis Chapman’s suspension earlier this season. We are also aware that he cooperated fully with the league investigation and takes responsibility for his actions.
“Today, prior to completing the trade, Theo, Jed and I spoke with Aroldis. I shared with him the high expectations we set for our players and staff both on and off the field. Aroldis indicated he is comfortable with meeting those expectations.
“Finally, my family, this team and Major League Baseball take the issue of domestic violence very seriously and support efforts to reduce domestic violence through education, awareness and intervention.”
One female Cubs fan decided to turn Chapman’s performances into something positive to fight domestic violence:
So I've decided I'm going to donate $10 to a Chicago domestic violence org every time Chapman gets a save.— Caitlin Swieca (@CaitlinSwieca) July 28, 2016
This turned into a movement with the hashtag #pitchin4dv and raised quite a bit of money.
After all this, Chapman went out and pitched and produced for the team. In addition to posting 16 saves in 18 opportunities during the regular season for the Cubs. Chapman had these three key appearances during the postseason run:
- Recording the last three outs in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Giants after the Cubs’ miracle rally in the top of the ninth. This was by no means a sure thing — Chapman had allowed a run the previous night in Game 3 and was pitching for the fourth time in five days. That allowed the Cubs to avoid a Game 5 Wrigley Field rematch with Jon Lester vs. Johnny Cueto.
- Recording the last eight outs, four by strikeout, in Game 5 of the World Series after the Cubs had taken a 3-2 lead, including entering with a runner in scoring position and one out in the seventh. The Cubs, of course, had to win that game or they lose the Series.
- Retiring the Indians in order in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series after allowing Rajai Davis’ game-tying homer. It was clear by then that Chapman had nothing left and was going on fumes, and everyone knew it, including the Cleveland hitters. Joe Maddon ran Chapman hard during the postseason — he appeared in 13 of the 17 games and it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to return in 2017. This was one of the guttiest pitching performances I’ve ever seen.
You might disagree, but I don’t think the Cubs win the World Series without Chapman.
And so, even though Torres has become an All-Star with the Yankees, the deal was worth it. “Flags fly forever,” the saying goes, and I believe that. It wasn’t clear that Torres would become the player he has at the time of the deal. True, he was a Top 100 prospect at the time, but he hadn’t played above A ball and hadn’t developed the power he has now.
It was still worth it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series will take a break for Christmas Day and will resume on Thursday, December 26.