On Monday, after acquiring reliever accused domestic abuser Roberto Osuna from the Blue Jays, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow offered a statement defending the team for the move. Among his comments included a reference to the Astros’ belief — based on what Luhnow called “unprecedented” due diligence — that Osuna was “remorseful.”
I’m not sure where Luhnow got the idea that Osuna was remorseful, exactly, but it certainly didn’t come from Osuna’s attorney, who is currently still battling in an Ontario court on behalf of his client:
A lawyer defending a client who still faces legal jeopardy saying this sort of thing is not necessarily uncommon or controversial. They save the “remorse” stuff for sentencing. But it sure does highlight just how full of crap Jeff Luhnow and the Astros were when they offered up their justification for acquiring Osuna.
As Bill noted on Monday, Luhnow’s comments were already facially disingenuous, as they referenced the team’s alleged “zero tolerance” policy toward domestic violence which, by simple virtue of acquiring Osuna, was transformed into a “some tolerance” policy. But that reference to “remorse” was likewise bunk.
Who told him Osuna was remorseful? It certainly wasn’t Osuna’s legal team. Was it Osuna? Doubtful, because lawyers of criminal defendants tend not to let their clients talk to people about the crimes for which they are still being prosecuted, especially in order to say stuff that implies their guilt. Doing that runs the risk of creating new witnesses for the prosecution to call.
We need not explore this all too deeply, of course, because it’s obvious what happened here. The Astros found themselves a bargain on a pretty good baseball player. Their calculation of his worth vs. his cost fell into the range of acceptable ratios in whatever matrix they use to assess such things and they made the baseball decision to trade for him. They then, clearly aware that many would take issue with the team acquiring an accused abuser, spit out the requisite Apology And Sensitivity Word Salad, complete with all of the “zero tolerances” and “due diligences” and references to “remorse” they felt were necessary and called it a news cycle.
Osuna’s lawyer, however, isn’t cooperating. Pity that. It makes the team look bad when all they really wanted to do was to get a bargain and have everyone else look away.
At this point commenters usually come in to accuse me of wanting any player involved in any controversy to be banned from baseball or to browbeat teams into shunning them or some such nonsense. That is not true at all. Baseball has a disciplinary framework in place for domestic violence and Osuna is currently serving discipline pursuant to it. I think it’s fine for him to come back to the game and for a team to employ him if it so chooses. I’m not saying anything different here. I’m not saying the Astros should not have traded for him or that they should not play him.
I’m simply asking for teams in the Astros position here to stop shoveling bull when it comes to these sorts of players. Stop providing them with these sorts of character endorsements and offering up this sort of P.R.-speak when they know they are not true. Tell the truth. Say something like “Osuna’s criminal charges make him what we baseball analysts call an ‘undervalued asset’ and we felt it was a great arbitrage opportunity. Indeed, it was quite fortunate for us, from a cost-of-doing-business perspective, that Osuna hit that woman and got into this mess in the first place.”
No team will say that, however, because (a) it would reveal that an unintended side effect of MLB’s domestic violence policy is to benefit teams financially; and (b) it would tarnish that image baseball teams like to cultivate as Community Assets or Community Institutions which make them something bigger and more important than other for-profit companies in town. That’s an image they like, by the way, because it helps them justify tax subsidies and all manner of other civic benefits that, say, a car dealership does not get.
The other thing that image encourages, by the way, is the cultivation of fan loyalty. By being bigger than just some other business, sports teams get you not just to buy their product, but to back them with your own personal passion and loyalty. To serve as a literal billboard for the team, not simply by advertising their product on your person and with your actions, but by getting you to pay for the privilege for doing so. To become a promotor and advocate for the team and the brand in the world at large.
Would you do that as readily if the team was honest with you and, rather than make a case about remorse and zero tolerance, they talked about how trading for a violent guy was simply an exercise in bargain hunting? Would you do that if you knew that, contrary to what the team says, how fans might perceive their favorite team trading for a domestic abuser is not really part of their calculus?
I dunno. Some wouldn’t care. But some would, and that’s why teams in these situations offer the sort of baloney the Astros offered about Osuna.