And here you all thought the most consequential event of the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays’ season would be the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Major League Baseball has spoken and formally suspended Roberto Osuna until Aug. 4 – four days after the MLB trade deadline – meaning the Jays’ most marketable trade chip, even more than a healthy free-agent-to-be Josh Donaldson or J.A. Happ, will likely be pitching somewhere in September. That’s just in time for a pennant race or wild-card game or the entire post-season.
Let’s state unequivocally that the wider societal and legal issues surrounding the domestic assault allegations surrounding the Blue Jays closer are of course the most important aspect of this situation, followed – I would like to imagine – by the rehabilitation of Osuna, since I’m not a fan of tossing 23-year-olds over the side. But it’s certainly not untimely or impolitic to wonder about the implications for the franchise and pitcher who has a career WHIP of 0.919 and isn’t a free-agent until after 2021.
The Blue Jays have a great deal of heavy lifting to do to get things lined up for the era of Vlad, and counted on Osuna to be a guy who could bring a robust return, particularly since there was a growing wariness and weariness within the organization about his off-season regimen (the Blue Jays had quietly urged him without any success to leave Mexico and work out in Florida or even Arizona.)
It’s true that the Jays did not and do not have another Osuna in their system, given an organizational philosophy that skews towards giving pitchers a fourth, fifth and sixth chance to show they can’t start before exiling them to the bullpen. It’s true, too, that Ryan Tepera is seen at best as a bit of a tease as a closer (and if he takes advantage of this gilt-edged opportunity, in the very least he can serve as a bridge to the closer of the future, however or wherever that individual is found) but the organization was prepared to move on from Osuna in the event that its post-season aspirations cratered. Kelvin Herrera brought the Kansas City Royals three ‘meh’ prospects from the Washington Nationals last week. The guess here is the Blue Jays would have done much, much better.
No wonder, then, that reports have suggested the Blue Jays were quietly pressuring commissioner Rob Manfred to set the suspension before the legal process worked its way to a conclusion, no doubt hoping that with back-dating to May 8 Osuna might somehow be available to be activated before the July 31 trade deadline, since baseball’s domestic violence frame-work allows for a 15-day minor league stint. Timing is a matter of significance in maximizing the value of a closer but, alas, not much has gone according to Hoyle this season.
So how do the Blue Jays chart this course? They will be in Seattle when Osuna is eligible to return, and then they have a six-game homestand against the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays starting on Aug. 7. This is all so complicated, even for an organization that had resolved itself to trading Osuna as far back as the winter meetings. Do they bury him in the minors instead of risking a backlash?
The good news? A player can be traded despite being suspended under the terms of the league’s domestic violence protocol – Hector Olivera was part of the Matt Kemp deal in 2016 while suspended. And, as always, players can still be traded after the deadline if they clear waivers but it’s tough to see Osuna clearing waivers since there isn’t a team out there – contender or non-contender – that wouldn’t take a shot at a guy who is making a pro-rated share of $6 million for the rest of the season and is controllable for the next three years. The guess, here, is that Osuna’s transgressions will be less of a public relations issue in 29 other cities and that Manfred in effect may have thrown his buddy Mark Shapiro a life-preserver. And you thought it was all about Vlad.
NOW TWEET THIS:
In which we bemoan the disappearance of the scoreless draw in the World Cup … detect a whiff of history in J.D. Martinez’s season … remember that time Brian Burke went all scorched earth … and wonder how Markelle Fultz’s strange case of the ‘yips’ didn’t make it on Barbara Bottini’s timeline …
• If you’re like me, the first person thought of when Dougie Hamilton was exiled to the Hurricanes was Brian Burke considering the civil war threatened in 2016 by the-then Flames senior advisor over reports of Hamilton’s availability #truculence
• J.D. Martinez has been the free-agent signing of the off-season. He leads the Majors in RBIs and is tied with Mike Trout for the HR lead with 23. The only other Red Sox hitters to lead in both categories are Ted Williams (1942), Jim Rice (1978) and Tony Armas (1984) #historic
• Lots of goals from set pieces isn’t the only trend in the 2018 World Cup: the last time 26 games were played without a scoreless draw was 1954 #nonilnil
• Even the Astros need to get lucky: 27-year-old rookie backup catcher, Max Stassi, goes into a three-game series with the Jays second in WAR among rookies at 1.2, behind Gleyber Torres (1.3). He was on waivers in March 2017 and all 29 other teams passed #rollthedice
• The Yankees (with Gary Sanchez due to go on the DL) and Nationals (who kicked the tires on J.T. Realmuto) have the offence to carry Russell Martin if the Jays would pick up $10 million or so. Undoable? Well, we’re told one NL team enquired about Martin this winter … #untradeable
• I hate to rain on our 2026 World Cup parade, but, even with renovations, am I the only one wondering about what shape the then 50-year-old Big O will be in, as well as the 48-year-old Commonwealth Stadium? #moneypit
• How on earth did Bryan Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, go by without leaking Markelle Fultz having the ‘yips’ on Twitter? #looselips
• For a guy who supposedly chews up young players, it’s remarkable how Jose Mourinho’s time at Manchester United dovetails with Jesse Lingard’s emergence as one of England’s most dependable players #easynarrative
THE END GAME
If I’m John Tavares, the decision is simple: I either stick with the Islanders after all I’ve been through or I go with the smart economic decision and sign with the Las Vegas Golden Knights and live tax-free in Nevada.
Tavares will be entertaining offers this week from five hand-picked suitors – including, apparently, his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs – and while I’d love to see him land in Toronto, I wonder how Tavares views the way the Leafs season ended with reports of tension between Auston Mathews and Mike Babcock.
I mean, Tavares would be treated like a conquering hero by the fan-base and would give the Leafs frightening forward depth while sending aftershocks throughout the Eastern Conference, but what would be Mathews’ view of the matter? Whose dressing room is it? Who gets the ‘C’, if anybody? Would one of them move to wing and help create a super line because if you thought Mathews wasn’t happy with his ice-time this past season … look: I just don’t know if the timing’s right. The legacy thing works with the Islanders; the money thing works with the Knights. If it’s me, I’m Vegas bound, baby!
Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9-11 a.m. and Baseball Central from 11-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown and co-hosts “The Lede” podcast with Stephen Brunt.