Roberto Osuna’s ‘second chance’ begins with Astros

MLB columnist Richard Justice joins Baseball Central to discuss the reaction to Roberto Osuna joining the Houston Astros.

Roberto Osuna’s second chance began Sunday afternoon. That’s how Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow painted it in a pre-game news conference. We can argue whether Osuna deserves it, based on assumptions and our own moral compass; but Luhnow is 100 per cent accurate about this being a second chance.

If only that was how he’d painted it when the trade was made on Tuesday.

Osuna didn’t even stir in the bullpen Sunday as the Astros lost 3-2 to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, with Ryan Pressly pitching the seventh and eighth innings on the road. But he did address the team privately and did a short news conference before the game, accompanied by Luhnow.

Nothing has changed since the trade was made other than Luhnow avoided trumpeting the Astros’ zero tolerance policy. Little was resolved by Wednesday’s court hearing in Toronto, other than Osuna’s lawyer, Dominic Basile, saying that Luhnow was wrong when in that original press release he said that Osuna had expressed remorse beyond anything other than “being remorseful for the circumstances.” Osuna has, after all, made it clear he intends to plead not guilty to domestic violence allegations, even though he did accept a 75-game suspension from the commissioner’s office that expired Saturday. For Luhnow to say Osuna accepted remorse was either a gross betrayal of something said in confidence or something that was, simply, wrongly wishful thinking.

It was Luhnow’s reference to ‘zero tolerance’ that resulted in him receiving a thorough grilling from national and local media. Those two words struck precisely the wrong tone because they seemed hypocritical. The safer ground – the ground Luhnow stood on Sunday – was that he believed offering Osuna a second chance was a risk worth taking. Whether or not anybody would actually believe him would have been moot; the guess here is that giving a young guy a chance to rehabilitate himself would have played well in Houston and, really, that’s all that matters from his and the team’s point of view. (As a side note, Osuna’s last minor league rehabilitation appearance for Corpus Christi resulted in little to no reaction from the crowd, according to Houston Chronicle reporter Bryan Murphy.)

This has been a difficult stretch for the Astros. Lance McCullers Jr. was placed on the 10-day disabled list Sunday with elbow discomfort; an inning or so after losing George Springer to a thumb injury Sunday, the Astros announced that Jose Altuve had a setback in rehabilitation from a knee injury and was scheduled to meet with specialists in Houston Monday instead of being activated for tonight’s game against the San Francisco Giants. “It feels like a setback only because we’ve eliminated San Francisco as a possibility,” said manager A.J. Hinch, who has picked his way delicately around Osuna’s addition. “I don’t know if we can consider it a setback other than he needs more time to heal.” Translation? It’s a setback.

Karma? You decide. Further fuel was helpfully added by the Astros’ opponent this weekend, the Dodgers, whose general manager Farhan Zaidi responded with “You can draw your own conclusions,” when the Los Angeles Times‘ Bill Plaschke asked him why a team that needed bullpen help would settle for a, say, John Axford instead of pursuing Osuna or Jeurys Familia.

But, what the hell: Ray Lewis was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend with precious little mention of the fact he turned state’s witness in a murder trial in 2000 in which murder and aggravated assault charges against him were dropped in exchange for his testimony – a deal that saw him plead guilty to lesser charges of obstruction of justice, receive a year’s probation and a $250,000 fine from then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Now he’s a network analyst, 10-cent evangelical preacher, and one of the NFL’s grand old men. It’s a remarkable transformation even for a league as amoral as the NFL. Sports is a lot of things, but it’s a horrible, miserable place to look for morality, as we’ve been reminded once again. I remain amazed at people’s ability to be amazed by that fact.

NOW TWEET THIS

In which we wonder how much longer Gibby gets to be da best … take the measure of Mookie Betts … salute the 2018 AL East Champion Boston Red Sox … and plug a podcast.

• If the chatter is true, this could very well be John Gibbons’ final homestand as Blue Jays manager. Bench coach DeMarlo Hale will replace him on an interim basis and next year’s manager will need to be: 1. analytically savvy and 2. speak Spanish fluently #justthefacts

• Fun stat from the folks at ESPN Sunday Night Baseball: the Red Sox’s Mookie Betts could become the first player five-feet-nine or shorter to lead his league in slugging percentage since Joe Morgan slugged .576 for the 1976 Reds #toycannon

• The Astros’ 14-0 win over the Dodgers Saturday was their second-largest shutout victory. They beat the Expos 15-0 on April 26, 1998, at the Big O, when former Expos Sean Berry and Moises Alou combined for seven of 18 hits and Alou had five RBIs #memories

• The Premier League starts Friday with Manchester United taking on Leicester City and let’s lay it out there: as much as it pains me to say this, it will be a shock if Jose Mourinho survives as the Red Devils manager #timesup

• This will go down as the weekend the Red Sox won the 2018 AL East title. Not only do they get to avoid a one-game wild-card playoff, but rookie manager Alex Cora now gets a chance to rest ailing starter Chris Sale however he wants and get all his post-season ducks lined up #itsover

• I’m intrigued by where Aledmys Diaz will fit into the Blue Jays’ pecking order in 2019. My Baseball Central colleague Kevin Barker thinks his short, powerful, low-maintenance swing plays well off the bench #useful

• Want a job coaching 10-year-olds to play Fortnite? Apparently they’re available. We are all going to hell #endtimes

• Stephen Brunt and myself have had a lot of fun doing our new podcast, ‘The Lede,’ but the one that will be posted this week – Rex Hudler on what it’s like to play out the string on a bad, bad, baseball team – is a freaking hoot #rexthewonderdog

Each week, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt tackle the most impactful stories in the world of sports and their intersection with popular culture. Come for the sports; stay for the storytelling and cigars.

THE ENDGAME

You know, I was only kidding when I wondered whether Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.’s walk-off home run in that exhibition game at Olympic Stadium would end up being the highlight of the 2018 Blue Jays season. That was the case, however, until this weekend when Blue Jays fans descended en masse to Safeco Field in Seattle and for the first and likely only time this season it felt a bit like 2015 and 2016.

There is a message, there for Blue Jays ownership: as anybody who has spent any time outside of Toronto will tell you, there is an underlying strength to this brand across the country. I’ve been to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba and Prince Edward Island since this run started in 2015. I’ve seen Blue Jays flags flying outside houses on the outskirts of Winnipeg; I’ve seen a Blue Jays flag attached to a tractor cab in the middle of a potato field near Summerside, P.E.I. But unless a real commitment is made to unlocking more revenue from the Rogers Centre in the next two years – enough to make sure the team doesn’t become a pain in the ass for ownership – I fear the brand will wither, just like the bad old days of not so long ago. The rot may not have reached either coast yet, but I’d hate to see anybody take for granted that it won’t.

Jeff Blair hosts The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon and Baseball Central from Noon-1 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590 The Fan and Sportsnet.ca. He also co-hosts ‘The Lede,’ a podcast with Stephen Brunt

Comments are turned off for this story.