Trouble for Trouble: Toronto Blue Jays Trade and Receive Skeptical Pitchers

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ST PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 6: Roberto Osuna #54 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on May 6, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, Florida. The Toronto Blue Jays won 2-1. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

The Toronto Blue Jays sent a statement as a franchise today. They are not going to tolerate having players that have a dark cloud of scandal over them, particularly if it revolves around allegations of domestic violence. Roberto Osuna, the once beloved closer of the Blue Jays, was suspended 75 games by the MLB after being charged and arrested on May 8th for alleged domestic assault of his girlfriend.

On the eve of the trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays decided to move on from Osuna, trading him to the Houston Astros for pitchers Ken Giles, David Paulino, and Hector Perez. It is clear that the Blue Jays as an organization wanted to dissociate itself from the reprehensible athlete, even though he has not been proven guilty of committing any crime and is currently awaiting his next court appearance in Toronto.

“We do feel a responsibility to the fans and we do feel empathy for the fans and we ultimately work for the fans,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins said. “That’s how we do our jobs. We are human and 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.”

In the era of #MeToo and more survivors of domestic violence coming forward sharing their stories, baseball franchises are forced to square their responsibility of making their team successful on the field, while preserving their moral compass among players in the locker room. While Ross Atkins is content with ensuring fans that this move was significant for the future development of the baseball team, he could have been more obstinate in his remarks, stating a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence within the organization. Osuna does have the sacred presumption of innocence and the right to a trial, but the words of someone as powerful as the Blue Jays general manager matter, especially in taking a stand on punishing domestic violence.

Astros Verlander, McCullers Jr. Vocal Against Domestic Violence

Players around Major League Baseball have spoken up against players who have allegedly committed heinous acts of domestic violence. Ironically, it was Houston Astros star players Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr. who shared their contempt on Twitter for former Double-A prospect Danry Vasquez, when it was discovered in a video that he beat up his girlfriend.

“I hope the rest of your life without baseball is horrible. You deserve all that is coming your way,” stated Verlander angrily. 

“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.”

With the Astros on the precipice on another deep postseason run, the team is acquiring arguably one of the best closers in baseball. Osuna has 104 career saves, with nine this season and a 2.93 ERA. If he comes back and plays up to his potential, he will have the opportunity to close some critical games for Houston deep into October.

But the Astros organization needs to take a hard look at itself and establish their protocol on how to handle domestic violence cases among their players. They sure cut Vasquez, but he was an unproven, Double-A prospect. The precedent of zero-tolerance was clearly established by Houston, so it appears hypocritical to now welcome Osuna into the organization, just because he is a high-profile closer who has averaged 32 saves in four seasons.

It is evident that Astros General Manager Jeff Luhnow believes in redemption and that Osuna will learn from his previous transgressions and become a critical part of the team.

“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,” Luhnow stated.

The Astros were willing to look past Osuna’s cloud of doubt and scandal, purely on the basis of generating success for the team heading into the postseason. But is this the type of image that the Houston Astros, an organization that has done so much for the community, particularly after the devastating destruction of Hurricane Harvey, wants to project to the rest of Major League Baseball? How are they able to square the reality that they released a player a few months earlier for committing domestic violence, while just acquiring an All-Star with a similarly checkered past? Time will tell, but it will be the fans of the team, as well as the players within the organization, that must continue to stand up and call out players for committing these unethical actions.

Blue Jays Trade and Receive Players Embroiled in Doubt

Not only did the Blue Jays trade away a player mired in scandal but they received players with equally as much doubt and skepticism. Ken Giles will be coming to Toronto as the former closer of the Houston Astros, where he is in the minors with a 0-2 record, 12 saves and a 4.99 ERA this season. 

Last season Giles shined as the Astros closer, where he had 34 saves in 38 chances with a 2.30 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings. But he struggled in last year’s postseason, where he allowed five runs in two World Series games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also used profane language aimed at Astros manager A.J. Hinch, burning the bridge between Giles and Houston forever.

Pitching prospects David Paulino and Hector Perez are also coming to Toronto in this Osuna deal. Paulino showcases solid pitching control and a strong ability to throw strikes. The young pitcher has a 4.67 ERA in seven games with Triple-A Fresno, but missed most of the 2017 season due to an 80-game suspension, testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Perez has a 3.73 ERA in 21 games split between advanced-A and double-A in 2018, but has dealt a concerning 4.8 walks per nine innings last season. It is an improvement from the 2017 season where his walks per nine innings average were 6.5, but it needs to get better if he’s going to be a starting pitcher in the majors.

Blue Jays Close Book on Osuna

There was a time that Roberto Osuna was a fan favorite in Toronto. He had been revered by the raucous Blue Jays fan base, particularly for his openness in discussing his struggles with anxiety. But now, Osuna’s reputation is tarnished and tainted, forever associated in infamy with those players who have committed domestic violence in the past.

The pattern in the MLB has shown that players do get a second chance, despite allegedly associated with domestic violence. But they are often released by the team they were playing on when the allegations surfaced. New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who was suspended 30 games by the MLB for domestic violence, initially played for the Chicago Cubs when the suspension occurred. Shortstop Jose Reyes was released by the Colorado Rockies when he was punished by Major League Baseball, only to be signed by the New York Mets.

While redemption is an endearing quality in our society, sports franchises need to govern and enforce their moral principles and values as an organization. Until MLB is ready to hand out season-long suspensions for players allegedly involved with domestic violence, more of these unfortunate cases will occur for players with bright futures in the game.

The Toronto Blue Jays have closed the book on their once-promising closer, Roberto Osuna. While they are receiving players mired in skepticism, it is clear that the organization is willing to take a sacrifice in their baseball performance in the short-term, to preserve their moral compass for generations to come.
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