To say Roberto Osuna is a controversial pickup for the Houston Astros is an understatement.
Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow with the World Series trophy. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Justin Verlander looks as tired in the dugout as the Houston Astros feel. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Jose Altuve and company made sure to soak up championship ring night. (Photo by F. Carter Smith.)
Carlos Correa, show here with his future wife Daniella Rodriguez, is one of the easy to root for, good guy Astros.
When Roberto Osuna was an elite closer for the Toronto Blue Jays, he was a flashy 21- and 22-year-old recording saves at a historic rate (he’s the youngest pitcher ever to reach 100 saves). Osuna only saw action against the Houston Astros twice a year — a series at home in Rogers Centre and one away at Minute Maid Park.
But it always felt like Osuna could shut down the Astros’ offense with a cockiness that reached a boiling point last season when he and Astros All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa exchanged words after Osuna leisurely took his time to throw a ball to first base after Correa grounded out to seal a victory for the Jays.
At the start of the 2018 season, it looked like Osuna was headed for another year as a dominant closer when he was abruptly placed on “administrative leave” in May due to an arrest on assault charges in a domestic violence incident. In June, it was official: despite no real details ever leaking out about Osuna’s assault (due to strict Canadian privacy laws), MLB suspended Osuna for 75 games for violating its domestic violence policy. The suspension was made retroactive to May’s mandated leave of absence.
Osuna plead not guilty in a Toronto court June 18, and is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday (though there are reports that this date likely will be postponed).
Before Osuna, New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who won a World Series in 2016 with the Chicago Cubs after they traded for him, was the name most associated with domestic violence in baseball. His disturbing story — he choked his girlfriend and fired eight shots into the air — was deemed worthy of a mere 30 game suspension. For Chapman to receive 30 games while Osuna gets a 75-game suspension raises eyebrows. Whatever Osuna did was awful enough for MLB to suspend him for nearly half a season.
However, he remained on the Blue Jays’ roster for precisely the reason that came to fruition yesterday when the Astros sent former closer Ken Giles and touted pitching prospects Hector Perez and David Paulino (it should be noted Paulino served an 80-game suspension in 2017 for…PEDs) to Toronto for Osuna – so Toronto could leverage Osuna’s potentially career-ending domestic assault suspension into trade bait.
In the immediate aftermath of the trade, the move on the Astros’ part was almost universally condemned, but the blowback was nothing compared to what occurred after Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow delivered a tone-deaf statement on the trade:
The due diligence by our front office was unprecedented. We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.
Setting aside the ridiculousness of Luhnow’s “we will adhere to our zero-tolerance policy…but we also believe in second chances” logic is the fact that there is no need for this move. The Astros are defending World Series champions. In spite of a recent offensive slump (no doubt due to the absence of both Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa) they are not a desperate team. They have the best starting rotation in baseball, and, by the numbers (and contrary to what the casual fan believes) one of the best bullpens in baseball.
Giles, who was terrible in the postseason last year, nonetheless is still arguably an elite closer when he’s called in to save games. (Do not ask him to take the mound with a five-run lead, however.) One of my favorite sabermetricians, Mitchel Lichtman, posted this last night about Giles: “I have him rated as essentially the same as Osuna. Other good forecasters actually like Giles better. So, to me, they swapped equivalent assets and gave up a bunch of prospects for nothing…[he is] one of the best pitchers in baseball.”
Perhaps Giles was traded because he seemed to bark “F*** you, man!” to manager AJ Hinch after being removed from a game, or perhaps he was a sour presence in the locker room. Hinch has shown before he doesn’t take kindly to being personally disrespected — see his handling of inconsistent former starting pitcher Mike Fiers in 2016.
But for a team and an organization that is almost universally seen as progressive, likable, and a joy to watch – the kind of organization that does everything right – the trade for Osuna is indefensible, and the worst move Luhnow has made as a general manager, period.
No Excuses After #MeToo
No matter how great Osuna might be, or how many games he can save for a floundering offense, none of it matters much in a time where #MeToo has rightfully ended the notion that anyone with a sense of decency could publicly defend domestic and/or sexual abusers.
It doesn’t matter if Osuna is the second coming of Mariano Rivera. The culture has changed, and while Giles is an imperfect closer, the Astros a week ago could have tried to trade for Baltimore’s Zach Britton, San Diego’s Brad Hand or Texas’s Keone Kela instead.
When Astros minor leaguer Danry Vasquez was caught on video beating his girlfriend in the stairwell of a minor league stadium, Astros stars Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers condemned Vasquez on Twitter.
An amazing reliever in his own right, current Astro Collin McHugh, is as conscientious a baseball player as they come. McCullers is an advocate for animals. Carlos Correa and former Astro Carlos Beltran, both from Puerto Rico, skipped the team’s White House visit, which anyone with a pulse could see as a statement against Donald Trump’s inhumane inaction on behalf of the devastated island in the wake of Hurricane Maria (even if both players publicly denied that was the reason).
Even Alex Bregman, the brash third baseman who draws the ire of many opposing fans, became a model for progressive values after he learned Spanish to become closer to his teammates in a league where the tension between white players and its many Latino players can be thick.
Some domestic violence professionals claim that harsh punishments for abusers can actually be harmful, because those repercussions instill fear in victims that, should they ever go public with their claims, they would face retaliation, or the guilt of having caused someone to lose their job or irreparably damage their reputation. But as the ongoing stalemate regarding Oregon State ace Luke Heimlich’s suitability as an MLB player proves, playing professional baseball isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.
Maybe Osuna is a reformed person now, and perhaps sometime down the line he could have resumed his professional career.
But for a league that is currently facing a lot of PR problems – the latent past racist tweets of players coming to light, commissioner Rob Manfred’s idiotic call-out of the best baseball player in the world, Mike Trout, for failing to “engage” all the while MLB scrubs all footage of its games from social media, and now, this – there is absolutely no reason the defending world champs and one of the most highly regarded organizations in any of the four major sports should take a gamble like this.