The Cubs are in the process of hiring a new translator for Aroldis Chapman, sources said, trying to smooth things over after a rocky introduction to Chicago that left the superstar closer feeling frustrated by his portrayal in the media.
Chapman told Comcast Sportsnet Chicago’s Siera Santos that he requested a new translator on Thursday, while a Cubs official said the team had made the offer earlier this week, responding to all the negative coverage from a press conference that made a bad first impression and national headlines for the wrong reasons.
The Cubs understood trading for Chapman – who began this season serving a 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy – would immediately spark controversy.
But the Cubs still didn’t seem completely prepared for the moment, or quite as thorough as advertised, watching Chapman look disengaged on Tuesday, not remembering anything specific about what chairman Tom Ricketts had told him over the phone about off-the-field conduct – a precondition that president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sold as an essential part of the deal with the New York Yankees.
With a large group of reporters gathered before a Cubs-White Sox game, Chapman sat in U.S. Cellular Field’s visiting dugout next to Henry Blanco, the quality-assurance coach and former big-league catcher who’s approved under the new joint program between Major League Baseball and the players’ union that requires every team to have a full-time, Spanish-speaking translator this year.
Blanco has built-in credibility and communication skills after playing for 11 different teams across 16 big-league seasons, but he found himself in a difficult position, given the sensitive nature of the questions and what’s at stake for a World Series favorite and an image-conscious organization.
Chapman later did a one-on-one interview in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. The team’s public-relations department circulated that transcript, with Epstein saying Chapman had been nervous and something got lost in translation.
But the damage had been done, with a visibly upset Chapman initially refusing to speak to the media on Wednesday night after making a spectacular debut in a Cubs uniform, unleashing 13 pitches from his left arm that registered at least 100 mph on the big Wrigley Field video board.
It became an awkward scene after what was supposed to be a feel-good 8-1 victory over the White Sox, creating a new tension in a laid-back clubhouse. Chapman showered, listened to his associates and ultimately agreed to two minutes of questions, with catcher Miguel Montero becoming his translator.
“What I’m trying to do right now is to really build a relationship with this guy so he starts trusting me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I believe once that occurs, I’m really going to be able to understand exactly what he’s about and what he’s thinking.
“I know there’s been some reticence or pushback regarding him to this point. However, understand where he’s coming from right now. We don’t know him. He doesn’t know us. And he really doesn’t even know the language.”
Chapman – who grew up in Cuba and is now in his seventh season in the big leagues – should be motivated to acclimate given the possibility of a World Series ring and a big free-agent contract this winter.
“I’ve spoken to him only once, at length, just trying to get him to relax,” Maddon said, “(and) have him understand me and what we’re all about here.
“As we all develop better relationships with him, the conversation’s going to flow a lot more easily and you’re going to maybe get the kind of information you’re looking for. But to put myself in his shoes, coming into a new venue, a new city, new everything, it’s a pretty heavy moment to immediately be scrutinized that way. I can almost understand why it’s been difficult for him.”