OAKLAND, Calif. – The Roberto Osuna of 2015 and ’16, the one who endeared himself to Toronto Blue Jays fans as a precocious 20-year-old with a big arm and bigger stones, disappeared the moment he was arrested May 8 and charged in the assault of a woman.
There was no return to normalcy after that. Not after a 75-game suspension from Major League Baseball for violating the sport’s domestic violence policy, with criminal proceedings ongoing, in these times, when society’s tolerance for such incidents is justly waning.
Even in the absence of a court ruling, how could Osuna simply rejoin the team Sunday in Seattle, put his uniform back on like nothing happened, and pick up right where he left off?
He couldn’t, for a number of reasons, and the biggest surprise Monday was not that the Blue Jays traded a 23-year-old who once seemed like a potential cornerstone, but that under the circumstances they found a willing taker for him in the Houston Astros.
The return of the struggling Ken Giles plus prospects Hector Perez and David Paulino wasn’t the bounty it would have been last summer, when the teams discussed Osuna ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline, and depending on who you talk to, came close to a deal.
Instead, general manager Ross Atkins swapped one problem closer for another with counterpart Jeff Luhnow, also getting Perez, who has a lightning arm and control issues, and Paulino, who has had shoulder problems and a PED suspension, to balance things out.
Considered in a vacuum, that’s a lot of bleh.
But given that one American League scout from a contending club essentially described Osuna as nuclear – “in this day and age I wouldn’t touch him,” he said – it explains why Atkins would call the trade one which “made sense from a baseball perspective.”
More precisely, this was the best the Blue Jays were going to do right now for Osuna, whose next court hearing is Wednesday, when his case may or may not be resolved. The alternative would have been to let Osuna pitch the rest of the season, try to rebuild some value and then trade him during the off-season, perhaps fetching a better return.
But that would have come at the cost of a stern public relations hit for a team already mucking through a miserable season and selling off assets to fuel a retool, and team owner Rogers Communications Inc., a publicly traded company, surely wanted none of that.
Washing their hands of him then, regardless of all his accomplishments with the club – saving 104 games in 124 chances, closing out Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS win over the Texas Rangers, becoming the youngest pitcher to reach 100 saves – was the path of least resistance.
The Blue Jays took it, managing to at least get something tangible back, distressed as it may be.
“We do feel a responsibility to the fans, we do feel empathy for the fans and we ultimately work for the fans, that’s how we view our jobs,” said Atkins. “We are human. It is very difficult for accusations not to influence us in some way. Having said that, this made sense for the organization from a baseball perspective.”
Again, add an under-the-circumstances caveat to that, because only Perez projects as a piece with the potential to be part of the longer-term future.
Giles pitched himself off the Astros roster by posting a 4.99 ERA in 30.2 innings, appearing to punch himself in the face after giving up four runs in the ninth inning of a 4-0 loss to the Yankees on May 1, and then seeming to make an angry comment to manager A.J. Hinch after getting yanked following another implosion July 10 against Oakland.
The latter got him optioned to triple-A Fresno where he’s been since, although manager John Gibbons said he’ll get the ball in the ninth inning once he arrives.
“I’ve had my own issues with players in the past,” he quipped when asked for his thoughts on Giles’ run-in with Hinch. “He’s had one of the top arms in baseball for a number of years. I have no idea what happened down there, but we’ve had a lot of guys come into their own once they’ve come to this team. Hopefully that happens here.
“It will be a new start for him, too, which I’m sure he needs.”
Perez will start at double-A New Hampshire while Paulino was sent to triple-A Buffalo. They’ll have a tough task of making the Blue Jays forget Osuna if he helps the Astros win a second consecutive World Series.
People forget and images can reset relatively quickly, as happened for Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.
That’s the calculus in Houston, where the opportunity to win outweighed the other considerations. While Atkins said there were “a couple of other teams that were interested and in on Roberto,” it was always going to be a hard sell and only by taking on someone else’s problems was he able to rid the Blue Jays of a once-beloved player who turned into an issue.
“I’m not totally shocked (Osuna) was traded,” said Gibbons. “I love the kid. I’ve been his only big-league manager but he’s had some issues he’s had to deal with. I wish him well. But more importantly, more so than baseball, I hope he gets his life together so he doesn’t have to deal with all the BS and chaos and enjoys his life, goes on to have a great career like I think he will. More importantly, his life is good and for all the other people involved.”
That’s certainly true, even if the Blue Jays made sure it wasn’t their concern any more.