Fielkow's Law: What the Chapman Precedent Means

Fielkow's Law: What the Chapman Precedent Means

This article is part of our Fielkow's Law series.

When clubs break spring training for their big league parks come April, at least one star, Aroldis Chapman, and possibly two more in Jose Reyes and Yasiel Puig, will be watching Opening Day festivities from the couch.

Chapman was suspended 30 games Tuesday under Major League Baseball's new domestic violence policy. What does that mean for Reyes and Puig, both of whom are facing their own domestic violence issues? Before we get to that, let's look at the policy itself.

Last fall -- while the NFL faced a public relations nightmare concerning its handling of situations involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson -- MLB and the MLB Players Association quietly worked behind the scenes toward a proactive solution to domestic violence. The result was the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

Under the policy, the Commissioner's Office is tasked with investigating "all allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse in the Baseball community," and the MLBPA agreed to cooperate in such investigations. Notably, the policy vests complete discretion in Commissioner Rob Manfred to determine potential penalties where there exists "just cause." It provides no minimum or maximum penalty guidelines, but rather grants the commissioner the authority to issue "the discipline he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct," regardless of whether the player is convicted or pleads guilty to a crime.

Further, the new policy gave Manfred the power to place any player accused of domestic violence

When clubs break spring training for their big league parks come April, at least one star, Aroldis Chapman, and possibly two more in Jose Reyes and Yasiel Puig, will be watching Opening Day festivities from the couch.

Chapman was suspended 30 games Tuesday under Major League Baseball's new domestic violence policy. What does that mean for Reyes and Puig, both of whom are facing their own domestic violence issues? Before we get to that, let's look at the policy itself.

Last fall -- while the NFL faced a public relations nightmare concerning its handling of situations involving Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson -- MLB and the MLB Players Association quietly worked behind the scenes toward a proactive solution to domestic violence. The result was the Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy.

Under the policy, the Commissioner's Office is tasked with investigating "all allegations of domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse in the Baseball community," and the MLBPA agreed to cooperate in such investigations. Notably, the policy vests complete discretion in Commissioner Rob Manfred to determine potential penalties where there exists "just cause." It provides no minimum or maximum penalty guidelines, but rather grants the commissioner the authority to issue "the discipline he believes is appropriate in light of the severity of the conduct," regardless of whether the player is convicted or pleads guilty to a crime.

Further, the new policy gave Manfred the power to place any player accused of domestic violence on paid administrative leave for up to seven days. In "exceptional cases," however, the Commissioner may suspend a player with pay until there is a resolution of a pending criminal or legal proceeding, or until the commissioner determines that he has just cause to impose an unpaid, disciplinary suspension.

Of course, not three months after the policy was implemented, three of baseball's most well-known players were allegedly involved in domestic violence incidents. First, it was reported that Chapman was involved in an October dispute in which he was alleged to have fired gunshots in his Miami-area home and choked his girlfriend. Later that month, Reyes was arrested in Hawaii on charges that he assaulted his wife. Finally, in November, Puig was allegedly part of a physical altercation with his sister at a Miami bar.

Chapman's suspension begins Opening Day, but he can play in spring training and is still expected to be the Yankees' closer when he returns May 9. While Chapman is sidelined, Andrew Miller likely will close for the Yankees. The suspension will cost Chapman stats -- Yankees closers averaged 11 saves in the first 30 games the last three years -- and money, as he'll lose about $1.7 million in salary.

According to the MLBPA, Chapman will not appeal the commissioner's decision, which is significant given the precedent-setting nature of the suspension. Although each violation of the policy will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, the 30-game ban handed down by Manfred now essentially sets the standard for future, analogous situations. This could prove instructive as fantasy owners await potential discipline decisions on Reyes and Puig.

Reyes, who unlike Chapman was actually charged with a crime, is likely facing a suspension of 30-60 games, based on the Chapman precedent.1 That probably won't come until after the resolution of Reyes' criminal trial, scheduled to begin April 4 in Hawaii, as he was placed on indefinite paid leave in late February pending the trial. Unless Reyes reaches a plea bargain before then, he will presumably miss all of spring training.2

Missing spring training and spending significant time away from the game obviously will make it harder for Reyes to return to the field at a peak level of performance, a fact which significantly hampers his fantasy value, notwithstanding the length of any suspension still to be levied.

It appears likely that Puig will face the smallest suspension of the three players, if he is even suspended at all. After the alleged disagreement with his sister, Puig also got into a scuffle with a bouncer, who claims that Puig sucker punched him. Outside of that, however, there are few known facts about the incident. Neither Puig nor the bouncer is pressing charges, and the only proof of Puig pushing his sister is a bar employee's account of the situation. Since the police consider the case closed, and it is debatable whether the terms of the policy would even apply given the parties allegedly involved, it seems probable that Puig will get off lighter than Chapman and Reyes, and may even avoid discipline altogether. The bigger question for fantasy owners might be whether Puig can regain his prior form after an injury-plagued 2015 campaign.

Because precedent remains limited under the new policy, predicting future penalties is not an exact science. According to sports law attorney Dan Werly, "[s]ince this is Manfred's first suspension under the new policy, and there has been a swell of incidents this offseason, there is a possibility of a strong initial suspension with hopes of creating a deterrent effect for other players."

What does appear certain, however, is that the days of MLB players avoiding any punishment at all for acts of domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse are over.


1. There's a chance that the Commissioner could credit Reyes with any time that he spent on paid leave as "time served," which would have the effect of reducing his penultimate suspension, but given that Reyes would primarily be missing inconsequential spring training games, I wouldn't count on it.

2. By placing Reyes on indefinite paid leave, it is clear that Commissioner Manfred has determined that Reyes' case presents sufficiently "exceptional" circumstances to warrant suspending Reyes until his criminal proceeding has been resolved. The MLBPA, for its part, does not necessarily appear to oppose this characterization, as the union recently

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Fielkow
Justin Fielkow is an attorney at the Franklin Law Group in Northfield, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. A proud Wisconsin Badger, he also attended Tulane University Law School, where he obtained a Certificate in Sports Law. Justin has been writing for Rotowire since 2008, covering the New Orleans Saints, and as a columnist analyzing legal issues and their impact on fantasy sports.
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