OAKLAND, Calif. — Before Roberto Osuna steps onto the mound as Houston’s new closer, the Astros want him to stand in the clubhouse and explain himself.
Swapping a closer with on-field problems for one with off-field troubles, the defending World Series champion Astros traded Ken Giles to the Toronto Blue Jays along with a pair of pitching prospects for Osuna on Monday.
The 23-year-old Osuna is eligible to pitch in the big leagues starting Sunday after a 75-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. He has made six scoreless one-inning appearances in the minors since July 14, the last three at Triple-A.
"It’s a tough situation. I think the thing for us to remember here is that the details haven’t come to light," Houston pitcher Justin Verlander said. "We don’t know the whole story. Obviously, I’ve said some pretty inflammatory things about stuff like this in the past, and I stand by my words.
"But I think with an ongoing case as is this one, just see what happens. But it will be interesting. I think he plans to talk to us when he gets here and we’ll go from there and see what happens," Verlander said.
Osuna is to pitch in another minor league game this week before joining the champions on Sunday.
Houston also sent right-handers David Paulino and Hector Perez to Toronto as part of the deal, a day before the deadline for trades without waivers.
The Astros lead the AL West but were set to begin a series at Seattle having lost a season-high four in a row. They also acquired reliever Ryan Pressly from Minnesota last week.
Osuna has not pitched in the majors since May 6, two days before he was put on administrative leave when he was charged with one count of assault in Toronto — which remains pending.
"This has been exceptionally difficult," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said on a conference call.
Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. voiced disdain for domestic abusers in March when video leaked of former Astros prospect Danry Vasquez beating his girlfriend. Vasquez was released by Houston following an arrest for the incident in 2016. KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi obtained and aired the video, which showed Vasquez, still partly in uniform, hitting his girlfriend in a stairwell at Double-A Corpus Christi’s stadium.
"(Middle finger emoji) you man," Verlander tweeted. "I hope the rest of your life without baseball is horrible. You deserve all that is coming your way!"
"This is the reality of domestic violence," McCullers wrote. "It’s always brutal, always sickening. We must fight for the victims, video or not. He should be in jail. If you need help, find it. People care."
Osuna is 0-0 with nine saves in 10 chances and a 2.93 ERA in 15 games this season. He was an All-Star last year, when he went 3-4 with 39 saves and a 3.38 ERA.
The right-hander would be eligible to pitch in the post-season, unlike players suspended under the drug policy this year, such as Seattle second baseman Robinson Cano, who is ineligible.
"We did a lot of background work and whatever we were able to do as third parties. And that’s all I can say," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Osuna lost 89 days’ pay, which comes to $2,536,022 of his $5.3 million salary, and the suspension delayed his eligibility for free agency by one year until after the 2021 season.
"The due diligence by our front office was unprecedented. We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has wilfully complied with all consequences related to his past behaviour, has proactively engaged in counselling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said in a statement.
In a statement released by Houston, Osuna said: "I thank Jeff Luhnow and the entire Astros organization for believing in me. I will not let them down."
The 27-year-old Giles is 0-2 with 12 saves and a 4.99 ERA this season, and was currently in the minors.
Giles punched himself in the face this season while heading to the dugout after giving up a three-run, ninth-inning homer to the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez on May 1.
He will have the chance to close for the Blue Jays. He’s expected to join them Tuesday.
"I know what happened down there but we’ve had a lot of guys really come into their own once they come to this team," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "Hopefully that happens here. It’ll be a new start for him, too, which I’m sure he needs."
Giles was optioned to Triple-A Fresno on July 11, a night after the hard-throwing righty appeared to curse at manager A.J. Hinch when he lifted him from the game.
Atkins said Giles has shown "he’s willing to be accountable for those actions."
"It’s unfortunate," the GM said. "I’m sure that contributed to him being available."
The 27-year-old Giles had 34 saves in 38 chances with a 2.30 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings for the Astros last season. Houston won its first World Series title, but he struggled in the post-season. He allowed two runs in three innings against Boston in the AL Division Series. He surrendered three more runs, taking the loss in Game 4 of the League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, and allowed five runs in a pair of World Series appearances against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Giles entered Game 4 in the ninth with the game tied at 1 and allowed all three batters he faced to reach base. Giles took the loss and did not appear again in the series.
Giles has a $4.6 million salary and is eligible for free agency after the 2020 season.
Hinch spoke to Osuna, who expressed his gratitude for the opportunity.
"It was a big day for us, obviously, and huge news on a lot of fronts," Hinch said. "And I think it obviously brings us to the centre of attention for a lot of reasons."
Gibbons, who spoke with Hinch before the deal, will be cheering for Osuna.
"I love the kid. I’ve been his only manager," Gibbons said. "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."