Roberto Osuna made his major-league debut in 2015. Since then, among all relievers with at least 100 innings, he ranks in the 88th percentile in park-adjusted ERA. Even better, he ranks in the 95th percentile in park-adjusted FIP, and he ranks in the 95th percentile in strikeout-minus-walk rate. For the most part, when Osuna has been able to pitch, he’s been very, very good, and he’s blossomed into one of the game’s better closers. It’s just that he hasn’t pitched in the majors since May 6. Not because of an injury — Osuna’s arm, presumably, is just fine. Rather, he’s currently serving out a 75-game suspension for domestic violence. He’s eligible to return this coming weekend.
The Astros want for Osuna to return wearing their uniform. And so Monday has brought news of a trade.
- Roberto Osuna
Blue Jays get:
The Astros are trying to repeat as World Series champions, and they identified an opportunity to land a cost-controlled, elite young reliever. Osuna’s controlled another two years after this one. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, identified an opportunity to buy low on a cost-controlled, potentially elite reliever. Giles is also controlled another two years after this one. Paulino and Perez, as well, are intriguing power-armed prospects. As a baseball trade, there’s enough here to be fascinating. But this isn’t just a baseball trade.
The Astros have an organizational reputation for being overwhelmingly, almost over-the-top analytical. That reputation is entirely warranted. From top to bottom, the Astros are a juggernaut, in terms of performance and in terms of player development, and a major reason behind their success is that they’re just so damned calculating. They tend not to get sidetracked by feelings — they play the probabilities, almost all of the time, and they already have one title to show for their philosophy. In more ways than I can count, the Astros are the envy of several other clubs. I’m sure they’ve already figured out that Osuna is likely to be a net positive. Giles’ time with Houston was clearly up.
I can’t even sit here and say the Astros are wrong. They’re probably right; Osuna will probably come back and pitch well, and he’ll probably be accepted by many of his new fans and teammates. Some of those teammates might require an explanation, but under the circumstances, there’s a strong inclination to forgive. To overlook, at the very least, or to allow a fresh beginning. Chicago didn’t celebrate any less hard when Aroldis Chapman and the Cubs won their own World Series. In professional sports, winning is the priority. That’s been demonstrated time and time again. It’s exactly why I’m surprised that Luke Heimlich doesn’t yet have a contract. I think we’re all used to seeing teams do what they need to do to try to maximize their success.
Objectively speaking, Osuna should make the Astros better on the field. He’ll strengthen a bullpen that hasn’t been as strong as the rest of the Astros’ components. They love that they’ll have him for multiple years. Importantly, I should note I don’t think the Astros are the only club that would’ve been willing to pick Osuna up. Some teams ruled themselves out, but I’m sure it wasn’t all of them. The Astros, you could say, simply won the sweepstakes. It’s also important to say that people can earn forgiveness. Osuna could take meaningful steps to demonstrate how he’s grown and changed as a person. He could sincerely express his remorse, and he could devote his time to supporting helpful organizations and initiatives. Osuna’s career needn’t be over at the age of 23. Not if he grows, not if he understands how his actions have caused so much hurt.
That all being said — that all being said — this is an acquisition that leaves a sour taste for anyone who thinks beyond the standings. The Astros might not lose many games because of Osuna. The Astros might not lose many *fans* because of Osuna. A lot of people, though, are paying attention. I’m not qualified to speak with authority to the matter of women feeling welcome as baseball fans, but little good is accomplished when forgiveness for domestic violence is granted so swiftly. This isn’t just about Osuna getting a second chance. It’s just as much about the timing.
As mentioned earlier, Roberto Osuna is still suspended. Right now, he is still serving out his 75-game suspension. I know he hasn’t been found guilty of anything in a court — his court date is still coming up. But baseball conducts its own investigations into these matters, as is its negotiated right, and in the case of Osuna, MLB saw reason to issue what was at the time its second-longest suspension under the domestic-violence policy. MLB figured Osuna deserved a severe punishment. The investigation was into an incident that happened in the early morning of May 8. It is currently July 30. It has been, for Osuna, about 12 weeks. No matter what you believe about second chances, it’s virtually impossible to believe someone could earn one in under three months. It would be one thing for the Blue Jays to give Osuna an opportunity to grow. They already employed him. The Astros went out of their way to pick Osuna up, even having the gall to cite a zero-tolerance policy that obviously doesn’t apply to someone who wasn’t yet wearing the uniform.
What makes it all the more, I don’t know, cavalier is that the Astros didn’t have to do this. The Astros didn’t face a decision between Osuna and no one. The trade market has been overflowing with relievers. It still is! Maybe none of those relievers are exactly on the same level as Osuna, but some of them come awfully close, and none of them are currently serving out a domestic-violence suspension. The Astros could trade for, say, Kelvin Herrera. They could’ve traded for Joakim Soria or Zach Britton. They could’ve paid for Brad Hand. They could get Ryan Tepera or Kirby Yates or Craig Stammen or so on and so forth. The whole industry figured the Jeurys Familia return was too cheap. Where were the Astros on that one? (Note that Familia was also suspended under the domestic-violence policy in 2017, for 15 games.) Osuna, the pitcher, is very good, assuming he is what he was. He is not the only very good reliever. And, frankly, the Astros already had plenty of good relievers anyhow. This is something the Astros sought out. They know full well that Osuna’s suspended for dreadful behavior, and by getting him now, the message is that winning trumps everything else. Even for a team with genuinely the least reason to be desperate to win.
I’ve seen it argued the Astros had to do anything they could to be rid of Giles. Giles has been pitching in Triple-A, thanks to a couple of major-league blow-ups. Especially after the way the playoffs went last year, it seemed like it was time for both parties to split, but I know for a fact this wasn’t the only Giles trade available. The Astros had the chance to trade Giles in a different move, for different talent. They opted for Osuna, and they gave still more pitching up. Not that it would be a good justification anyway, but you can’t even say the Astros are paying pennies on the dollar. Giles, for all his troubles, has 31 strikeouts and three walks this year in 30.2 big-league innings. Paulino is a 24-year-old former good prospect with a big arm and high-minors strikeouts. Perez was rated the Astros’ No. 5 prospect in February, and he’s a 22-year-old who’s trimmed his walk rates. The Blue Jays come out of this looking pretty good — maybe they didn’t get to trade a player at peak value, but in return for a credibly accused abuser still serving a suspension, they got three pitchers who could reach the bigs in short order. Osuna has a career ERA- of 67, and an FIP- of 62. Giles has a career ERA- of 67, and an FIP- of 54.
You get into weird and muddy territory when you start talking about which major-league organizations might occupy the moral high ground. None of them are charities; none of them are beyond reproach. These are businesses, making business decisions, and just as the Blue Jays made the business decision they’ll be better off without Osuna, the Astros made the business decision they’ll be better off with him. Honestly, I assume they’re right. Osuna helps the bullpen. The bullpen helps the team. Many fans don’t want to think about anything beyond the basics. They see sports as an entertaining distraction from everything else. You’re happy about wins and you’re annoyed about losses. It’s never any more complicated than that.
For the fans for whom it is more complicated, the Astros today have scored an own goal. They made a trade they didn’t need to make for a player still looking ahead to a court date. The Astros know exactly what they’re doing. That’s kind of what makes this so difficult to stomach.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.