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Roberto Osuna, the Anguish of Not Knowing, and the Limits of Fandom

What have you done, Jeff Luhnow?

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

So there was a bit of news yesterday.

As I’m sure everyone reading this site is aware, the Astros shocked their fanbase by trading for tarnished Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna yesterday. It was a move that has generated heated debate in numerous corners of the Astros’ online presence. For some it’s hard to know how to feel about the move for a variety of reasons, but those same reasons make it easy in black and white terms for others.

Before I delve too deep into my thoughts on this, I have to note that I have never personally experienced or seen the consequences of domestic violence in my own home. I have never struck nor been struck by a partner in my adult life, and the only bruises on my child come from when she trips while running. The worst I got as a kid was my father angrily threatening with the belt and a handful of slaps when I got too fresh with my mother.

However, I understand that the subject matter itself can invoke strong, emotional feelings from those who are all too familiar with such a nightmare scenario. I can’t even begin to put myself in such a place mentally. For those who would dismiss those emotions as unjustified in this particular instance for any reason, you are wrong.

Now, let’s start unpacking.

The Basics

On June 22nd Roberto Osuna was suspended for 75 games, without pay, retroactive to May 8th when he was placed on administrative leave after being arrested for a domestic violence incident. The commissioner released a statement when he announced the punishment, stating that he had reviewed the available evidence and deemed that Osuna had violated MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Osuna elected to serve his suspension and did not appeal the punishment, but made it clear that he was not admitting guilt.

This is about the tail end of the known facts surrounding the incident itself. Canadian laws are very strict in domestic violence cases when it comes to protecting the victim’s privacy. Osuna has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is expected to be in court on August 1st, three days before he’s eligible to return for his suspension. The results of that court date could result in further punishment if MLB deems it appropriate.

The Blue Jays’ Response

The Blue Jays also released a statement at the time of his arrest, as did Blue Jays Manager John Gibbons. Both were notable due to the fact that they did not use terms like “alleged” or “if proven” when referring to the incident. For those who haven’t read it, Sheryl Ring over at Fangraphs breaks down the subtle ramifications of that here. It’s a fantastic read.

Further, there have been rumblings going around that the Blue Jays had already decided to wash their hands of Osuna long before the trade. This would fit in with the character of the Blue Jays, who have taken an aggressive stance when it comes to tolerance and diversity. Another example is how swiftly they came down on Kevin Pillar after he used a homophobic slur against an opposing pitcher last year. The team seems to pride itself on this policy, which it should.

For Baseball Reasons

So now we come to the big trade with Ken Giles, David Paulino, and Hector Perez heading North in exchange for Roberto Osuna. As a strictly baseball move, this was a good trade for the Astros beyond the fact that Giles and Paulino have baggage of their own.

Giles has been volatile on the mound, has had nationally embarrassing moments on the field, and the team seemed determined to trade him and get value back. Paulino is blocked for the foreseeable future with several prospects seeming ready to leapfrog him, but there is still upside to him. Perez is similar, but has shown more durability than Paulino and still needs to work on refining his control.

If Osuna can continue pitching well with an ‘H’ on his cap then the Astros have upgraded their pen and answered their closer question for the next few years. It takes what was already a strong bullpen and catapults it into elite. Plus you get a big return on Giles, who has certainly lost some trade value with his performance and antics this season.

The trade was also good for Toronto in baseball terms if they were determined to trade Osuna. In spite of public opinion, Giles is a viable retread project and could possibly find his form again now that he’s away from the pressure of Houston. Paulino and Perez both have nice upsides, and strengthen the Jays’ farm system. Though it is a downgrade for their pen, Toronto did acquire two players who can immediately contribute at the major league level if they wish it.

I would also point out that a lot of other teams that Houston is likely to face in the playoffs are adding pieces and putting pressure on the Astros to improve. The Yankees and Boston, Houston’s biggest non-division rivals, have been especially aggressive to plug holes and strengthen up their teams. I would imagine that this is having an effect on FO thinking.

But Seriously

This trade will not be hailed as a good one for the Astros. The term domestic violence itself is so full of fraught and terrifying connotations that to be associated with it is a mark on your very moral character. Houston has accepted that association by publicly stating that they want Osuna to play for them. That is part of who the team is now and is why there is so much dismay at this move.

Of course, there are a number of reasons that some can use to soften the shock of this move. There will be calls of how important second chances are and how Osuna was going to play somewhere no matter what so he might as well play for us. Some excuses will be more vile, on how the woman is just looking for a paycheck or how she provoked him to exact some sort of revenge to ruin his career. None of these really address the underlying moral implications of the team trading for him though, they just try to make it seem like it wasn’t a bad move.

Really, the biggest issue at hand here is the fact that we simply don’t know any details about the incident itself. Domestic violence laws are intentionally broad for a variety of good reasons, so they do sometimes scoop up lesser incidents that need to be investigated to ensure that they are minor and isolated. There is enough reason to speculate that this particular instance is more than that, but not enough to know for sure.

For some it doesn’t matter how minor, any form of domestic violence should be swiftly and strictly punished. A good number of these are people who have seen firsthand the results of domestic violence. The pain, fear, and trauma of living with an abuser is real and justified. They have a solid point that no one deserves to live like that and those who perpetrate it on others don’t deserve second chances.

Others could argue that if it was a minor incident resulting in little or no physical damage then he’s been appropriately punished with the suspension and whatever action the courts take against him. If he’s been punished fairly in accordance with society’s laws then there’s no reason to completely ruin his career and livelihood if he can change his behavior. But there’s nuance there. If the incident was worse than that and Osuna truly assaulted his wife in a malicious manner, then he doesn’t deserve fame and adulation and the removal of those should be part of his punishment.

So What Now?

I’ve followed this team for around 20 years now and have never felt this much indecision over them in a moral sense. I’m missing an important part of the story that has the power to completely change how I feel about it. The whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Especially considering the moves that the Astros have taken in the past to position themselves as a conscientious team with no tolerance of violence. That reputation has taken a hit.

The cynic in me says that what will happen is that there will be much hullabaloo if/when Osuna takes the mound. Some will turn off their TV for that inning, others will stop watching the team altogether. Some will not even reflect on the whole situation while still others, probably myself included, will feel somewhat dirty about it but continue watching because of the investment had in the team itself. Eventually the controversy will fade from the forefront.

But ultimately, in the end, everyone’s fandom is their own. It’s not up to us to say how any other fan is obligated to react to this type of move. However, the trade is making a lot of us examine that intimate connection we have with the team and question its value. Houston has probably lost some fans with this move, and deservedly so.

What I personally can’t shake is that, for the first time since I can remember, the Astros feel like villains to me who only care about winning.

That’s not who I want to root for.