There are a lot of Astros fans who have no love lost for reliever Ken Giles. While solid at times in his career in Houston, he has often been shaky and, most recently, was caught on camera dropping an expletive in the direction of manager AJ Hinch after a subpar performance. Following that, he was demoted to Triple A.
On Monday, in what would likely be considered a blockbuster move if only baseball were involved, the Astros dealt the embattled closer (along with minor league pitchers David Paulino and Hector Perez) to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for young phenom Roberto Osuna, who plays the same position as Giles.
From a baseball perspective, this is a bold and impressive move by the Astros. Osuna is the youngest player ever to 100 saves. He possesses great stuff and is only 23 years old with two years remaining before he is eligible for free agency. It's a no-brainer deal from a purely on-the-field view. Unfortunately, there is more to it.
Osuna remains suspended by baseball for a domestic violence incident in May. He was suspended for 75 games and is eligible to come off his suspension August 4, making him also available for the postseason. He is due in court on Wednesday to answer for charges and it appears that, given the trade, all parties are confident he will reach a settlement. Very few details have emerged from the case, which occurred in Toronto, other than to say Osuna assaulted a woman and MLB thought it was bad enough to suspend him for nearly half a season. That's not good, obviously.
The Astros released a statement confirming the trade and addressing the suspension:
“We are excited to welcome Roberto Osuna to our team,” said Luhnow. “The due diligence by our front office was unprecedented. We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind. Roberto has some great examples of character in our existing clubhouse that we believe will help him as he and his family establish a fresh start and as he continues with the Houston Astros. We look forward to Osuna’s contributions as we head into the back half of the season.”
On one hand, this sort of thing is abnormal for Houston teams. You rarely see any team here make a move for a great but potentially troubled player. Certainly the Texans would NEVER do it. But the press release brings up a point and that is the character of the Astros. Teams like the Patriots and others are often happy to take on reclamation projects because they know in the locker room, they police themselves. When put in the right situation, guys can turn their games and lives around.
Osuna pointed to that in his statement in the same release.
“I am excited to join the Houston Astros and move forward with a fresh start to my career,” said Osuna.“The positive character of my new teammates is a big reason for their success and I look forward to bringing a positive contribution to this great group of guys as we work towards many more winning seasons. I thank Jeff Luhnow and the entire Astros organization for believing in me – I will not let them down.”
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The problem is this is a different kind of issue. IT's not a drug charge or a DUI. Osuna was charged with assaulting a woman. Even if this weren't the #MeToo era, that would be a massive stain on anyone's record, especially a young pitcher. And any team that takes him on is assuming a substantial risk.
The Astros are big on risk-reward moves. If Osuna messes up again or if he is unable to perform after such a long layoff, it could be a huge black mark on Jeff Lunhow's otherwise sterling record. If, however, he straightens himself out, makes amends and plays well, it could not only be a huge addition for the team, but a way of demonstrating the Astros culture is not only good enough to win a title, but do right by players and the community on the whole.
That is a big "if", obviously, but the Astros seems to be willing to take the gamble, and there is no question they need the help in the bullpen. These allegations should absolutely be taken very seriously. In almost any other circumstance, it might be easy to ignore baggage. We see athletes with criminal histories all the time. But, domestic assault is a different animal altogether.
It could ultimately be a win for the Astros, but a lot will need to go right for that to happen. Let's hope for the team and Osuna's sake it does.