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Thursday, December 31, 2015
Joseph Conti: Aroldis Chapman and Rethinking MLB free agency rules

This post is written by Attorney Joseph Conti



On Monday January 28, 2015 the New York Yankees traded away four prospects to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Aroldis Chapman, but the Yankees acquiring one of baseball’s top closers is only one part of this transaction. Chapman is currently being investigated for an alleged domestic violence incident stemming from an October 30, 2015 confrontation. Due to this investigation, Major League Baseball is contemplating a suspension for Chapman in accordance with collectivley bargained rules.

Baseball's CBA allows teams to control a player’s contract for 6 years prior to the player hitting the free agent market. Chapman is entering his 6th year of service. However, if MLB suspends Chapman for more than 45 days for this upcoming season, the 2016 season will not count against that 6 year time table. Therefore, it is in the Yankees best interest for Chapman to get suspended for more than 45 days in the 2016 so they can pay Chapman a cheaper salary for the 2017. A contract for a superstar in arbitration, before free agency, is much lower than the contract Chapman would receive as a free agent.


Whether the rules delaying of the free agency period because of a domestic violence suspennsion should be altered.

Givens and Variables

A given is that the Yankees did what is best for their organization. Chapman’s contract appears more valuable than the cost of the prospects traded away and the potential negative public relations associated with acquiring a player who is accused of wrongdoing. Also, the Yankees taking full advantage of a rule already in place is not a negative.

Other "givens" include that certain variables may positively or negatively affect any athlete. The list includes performance, injury, and baseball has a new CBA at the end of the 2016 season.

Why this rule is good

The rule imposes a substantial penalty on players who have engaged in wrongdoing, at least "wrongdoing" as determined by MLB. That consequence may, to some degree, deter other players from engaging in that type of wrongdoing. Losing one year of a higher free agent salary during the prime of your career should be a determent. To further illustrate this point: when using the NFL as a comparison, a 45 day+ suspension in baseball is more punishing than 4 game suspension in the NFL.

Why this rule is bad

The rule counterintuitively makes athletes with domestic violence suspensions more valuable as an asset to a team since teams gain an additional year of control over these players. At least in theory, this dynamic could create corruption by players, agents, and teams to avoid free agency for a season in hopes of an additional season to improve their value upon hitting the free agent market. Teams now have players under their control for an additional year for something that is inherently negative.


Being a stat head I believe the best solution would be to create a stat based approach predicting outcomes and values in the future. This way the athletes associated with crime and the temas that employ them do not benefit when all of the above variables are in executed. The statistic solution can show whether or not free agency now or a year from now will result in a net positive for the athlete.

For example, if Chapman breaks his arm the last game of the season next year. He is likely worse off as a free agent in 2016 because someone has to take a risk on him and he should be a free agent avoiding the benefit of a 2017 season before he signs a long term free agent contract. However, if he closes 42 games successfully without a loss he forced into another year of arbitration before his free agent contract.

Attorney Joseph Conti is an associate focusing on high tech patent prosecution at Onello & Mello LLP in Burlington, MA. He is a 2015 graduate from The University of New Hampshire School of Law. During his free time you will see Joe cheering on the Big 4 Philadelphia Sports Teams, and Saint Joseph's University Basketball.


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