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Astros continue to trip over themselves justifying Roberto Osuna acquisition


Last Monday, the Astros sent reliever Ken Giles and minor leaguers David Paulino and Hector Perez to the Blue Jays in exchange for Roberto Osuna. Osuna was in the midst of serving a 75-game suspension for a domestic violence incident in May. Osuna was arrested by Toronto police and charged with assault against his girlfriend. His next court date is scheduled in September.

The Astros’ decision to acquire Osuna was controversial for obvious reasons. GM Jeff Luhnow made things worse by releasing a statement that was facile and, frankly, insulting to those who care about the issue of domestic violence. In a statement he released, he said the Astros have a “zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind.” Which, if it was actually zero tolerance, would have precluded the team from acquiring Osuna in the first place. Luhnow also mentioned that Osuna “has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior” but that was before his court date last week. The case is still ongoing, so to say that Osuna has “complied with all consequences” is just not true.

The Astros continued to trip over themselves justifying the Osuna acquisition as the club issued another statement. Part of it read, “Our decision to acquire Roberto was based on the entirety of information that we gathered during our extensive evaluation. That included as much information as we could gather about the specific incident and the charges that were filed but it also included as much information as we could gather about his actions before and after the incident, as well as his personal reputation among his former teammates and coaches. The information regarding this specific incident weighted heavily on our decision but when evaluating the entirety of the information, we felt that Roberto deserved a second chance.”

Why is Osuna’s “personal reputation among his former teammates and coaches” relevant? Plenty of horrible people were considered nice and honorable by their friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, etc. How many people came out after the allegations against Bill Cosby to say something like, “He was always such a nice guy. He would never do anything like that.” People act differently around different people, especially when a power imbalance is involved. How Osuna’s former teammates and coaches view him has absolutely no bearing on whether or not he’s a domestic abuser.

Secondly, the statement uses the phrase “second chance.” That phrase implies guilt, that he did something wrong to blow his first chance. Even ignoring that, though, why is Osuna — or anyone for that matter — worthy of a second chance? Osuna has maintained his innocence the whole time, so it’s not like he has admitted fault and made great strides to make things right. He has complied with MLB’s domestic violence program which was not optional and has otherwise done nothing.

Later in the statement, the Astros say, “This was an extremely difficult decision for our organization. … We are strong believers in protecting the rights of victims and remain committed to having a positive impact on our community. We will use this decision to significantly increase our support, raise awareness, and influence change regarding the issues of domestic violence and abuse of any kind. We have engaged with Houston Area Women’s Center, Texas Council on Family Violence, and National Network to End Domestic Violence and look forward to working with them.”

If the Astros were truly “strong believers in protecting the rights of victims,” they would have, at minimum, waited for Osuna’s case to resolve in the Canadian court system. To go above and beyond, they could have tried to work with the alleged victim. (Oftentimes victims don’t want to cooperate because reliving the experience can be triggering and/or they fear more retribution from their abuser.) The Astros could have reached out to the aforementioned organizations before the public backlash to determine whether or not trading for an alleged domestic abuser sends a good or a bad message to victims. This comes off as, “We want to have our cake and eat it, too. We name-checked some DV organizations so it looks like we actually care about the issue of domestic violence within baseball. Osuna throw ball hard.”

The foot-in-mouth syndrome didn’t stop there, however. Per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, Luhnow said, “I think the conversation is incredibly important and valuable. There are a lot of components to the conversation — and we do need to have it. It’s a sticky conversation with any sort of alleged abuse, the topic of domestic violence. There’s also some related topics of condemning someone with no information, and I see a lot of that out there. There’s not a lot of people who have a lot of real information about what happened or who the person is and yet they’re pretty quick to judge and condemn. That’s something we need to be careful of.”

This is tremendously condescending. Luhnow certainly is privy to certain information that writers and fans are not. But Luhnow doesn’t have the most crucial piece of information: a verdict. That won’t come until at least next month. Luhnow hasn’t reviewed security footage, interviewed witnesses, talked with the victim. He has talked to Osuna and Osuna’s former colleagues.

Luhnow continued, saying, “I understand there’s people who don’t want this, don’t support this. We’ve done everything we can to gather the information and make the best decision for the organization. We feel comfortable giving Roberto a second chance. And, long term, we’re going to have to prove whether this works or not by what happens on the field and what happens off the field.”

There’s that “second chance” again. You don’t get a “second chance” if you’re innocent, right? You’re still on your first chance. The Astros’ messaging here is a little unclear due to their use of that phrase combined with their insistence that Osuna did nothing wrong. Luhnow also says the acquisition will have been proven to work, partially, “by what happens on the field.” No. Osuna posting a low ERA and nailing down some postseason saves won’t help justify the trade. It will be justified if he is deemed innocent by a judge. That’s about it.

Manager A.J. Hinch said, via ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez, “We really don’t know what to think or what to say or what to do and how to absorb all of this, but it’s right in front of us, and we will do our best as a team and as a family and as a group to help him navigate through this; to help ourselves navigate through this.” Hinch continued, “Make no bones about it — domestic violence allegations are bad. Domestic violence is bad. All of us as humans know that and believe that. And so we have to figure out a way to separate those feelings versus the additional opportunity he is getting on our club.”

Why do we have to “separate those feelings”? Baseball is not a separate reality from real life. Baseball intersects with so many aspects of our culture, including politics and interpersonal relationships. How we treat athletes accused of doing terrible things speaks to how we view that particular issue as a society. Do we value the dignity and safety of women more than a baseball player’s ability to throw baseballs well? Based on historical precedent, the answer is no, which is why “All of us as humans know [domestic violence is bad] and believe that” is untrue. If that were the case, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

The Astros should just drop the pretense and instead admit, “We honestly don’t care what Osuna did because he’s a good pitcher and he can help us win games.” They keep tripping over themselves trying to justify bringing Osuna into the fold. Save us all the trouble of having to respond to these disingenuous statements.

MLB executive: Bruce Maxwell’s kneeling may keep him from finding work, not his arrest

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In September 2017, former Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first major league player to kneel during the national anthem, joining the handfuls of NFL players who had been doing the same to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Maxwell’s effort was laudable, but he got into trouble a month later when he was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct. Maxwell allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery person.

Maxwell, 27, played sparingly for the Athletics in 2018 and then was designated for assignment at the beginning of September. He officially became a free agent on November 2 and has had trouble finding work in the month-plus since.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Maxwell fired his agent, Matt Sosnick on Thursday because he’s still jobless. According to an unnamed MLB executive Slusser spoke to, “It’s the kneeling thing that might keep him from getting another job, not the arrest. Owners aren’t going to want to deal with that whole anthem issue.”

That makes a lot of since since abusive players haven’t had too much trouble finding new work otherwise. Addison Russell, Jeurys Familia, and José Reyes, among others have either stayed with their teams or quickly found new work. Given the relatively weak catching market, had Maxwell only had the assault charge, there is no doubt he would have been signed to be a backup catcher somewhere.

In the NFL, Colin Kaepernick — who popularized kneeling during the anthem — has remained unsigned even though teams have opted to sign and start clearly inferior quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Matt Barkley, and Sam Bradford, among many others. Team owners tend to run conservative in terms of politics, so they may not like the protest to begin with, then there is the public blowback to signing such a player as those who dislike such protesting make up a slight majority in the U.S., according to various polls including one done by the Washington Post.

It’s worth noting that Maxwell has a career .240/.314/.347 triple-slash line in 412 plate appearances. We’re not talking about J.T. Realmuto or Buster Posey here. That being said, there have been 15 other catchers to have put up a lower aggregate OPS since 2016 (min. 400 PA). One of those players, Derek Norris (.600 OPS since 2016), signed a minor league contract with the Tigers just three months after being suspended by Major League Baseball for violating its domestic violence policy. Makes you think.