BUFFALO—Hey Roberto, want to say something to Toronto?
I don’t think he is, actually.
The house that’s been teetering on its foundation for the past nine weeks finally buckled and collapsed on the stud closer’s head late Monday afternoon.
For someone who must be, and is, still considered innocent.
Why wait for the matter to be resolved in court one way or the other — the Osuna case returning before the bench on Wednesday (he doesn’t have to appear, and won’t), just the other side of the non-waiver trade deadline. Under which Blue Jays management managed to acrobatically limbo with the clock ticking down towards D-Hour by packing their primary roster asset off to Houston.
A gem treated like a blood diamond. Too toxic for the Jays, for Rogers ownership, despite the we-are-family assertions hung out there by GM Ross Atkins just a couple of weeks ago.
“That was 100 per cent genuine,” Atkins told the Star Monday, as the unconfirmed trade scoop hit the Twitter tom-tom. “It still is. I could not have been more authentic. When he returns he is our closer.”
Fifteen minutes later, he wasn’t.
Ken Giles inherits that role, presumably, a guy who hot-wired himself right out of the big leagues last month, demoted to Triple-A on the heels of an emotional outburst directed at Houston manager A.J. Hinch after being lifted from a game. The same Giles who, in May, planted a rather violent punch to his own face after surrendering a ninth-inning, three-run, go-ahead homer to the Yankees.
So, bit of a loon and apparently unstable goods, as far as the Astros were concerned.
But of course Giles has never been accused of punching somebody else, certainly not the mother of his child. That makes him a finer human being, yes?
Makes the Jays a considerably worse team today though, even with a pair of pitching prospects thrown into the swap, one of them, right-hander David Paulino, clobbered with an 80-game suspension last year after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.
Seventy-five games for alleged domestic assault: Deplorable, unendurable, string him up.
Eighty games for drug-juicing: Ah, we can live with that.
In any event, it’s not about winning and losing or the closing backbone that Osuna provided. At least, the Jays won’t be doing a whole lot of the former any time soon-ish, next season-ish, since management has clearly given up on 2019 already. How else to explain the totally underwhelming inventory obtained in exchange for Osuna and J.A. Happ?
I remember Osuna, a year ago, facing a phalanx of reporters in Kansas City, trying to explain the troubles — anxiety, panic attacks — he’d been experiencing and why he’d taken a mental health timeout, though he remained with the team. He was at a loss to understand what was happening.
Now the loss is Toronto’s. Or a shedding, for the virtuous.
Don’t feel too sorry for Osuna, I guess, leaving a franchise in freefall — plucked like a scalded chicken — headed for the post-season now and quite possibly another World Series.
I would like to have spoken with Osuna about this whirlwind of fortune — or misfortune — but he refused to speak during the final hours of his Blue Jay incarnation, first ushered into Coca-Cola Field around 3:30 p.m. (just over two hours before Ken Rosenthal was first to tweet the news about a trade), protected by a member of the PR staff who fended off a reporter’s questions, then further shielded in the Buffalo Bisons clubhouse. “He doesn’t want to talk.”
See, I’m not believing that. In fact, a teammate source told the Star that Osuna had expressly been ordered by Jays management — “at the very top” — not to speak with reporters.
Controllable until the very end — except for that one day when he allegedly did not control himself, his temper, his rage and hurt a woman, though details of the purported assault have never been disclosed. Osuna, his lawyer reiterated to the Star on Monday, still intends to plead not guilty to the single charge. The matter, which will not be resolved on Wednesday — but possible by the end of the month — could ultimately be settled with a peace bond, conditions attached, such as staying away from the alleged victim (unless she gives her written approval) and possibly entering the Partner Assault Response Program.
Because rehabilitation and mending ruptured families is just as important as punishment and deterrence.
“He is a young superstar,” said defence lawyer Domenic Basile, “who will succeed wherever he pitches.”
That should have been here, in Toronto, had uber-management not so horribly misread the fan base. Three years in for the carpetbaggers from Cleveland and they still don’t have a clue.
“Roberto was very appreciative of his time here,” Atkins told reporters on an early-evening conference call. “He was seemingly excited about the opportunity but at the same time emotional.’’
Adding: “It’s always very difficult to tell a person that he’s been traded, but he was very respectful on the phone.”
In a separate interview, Atkins insisted that the Jays had not been actively shopping Osuna these last few weeks, as had been reported by various sources. But there was keen interest in so highly regarded a moundsman and alleged domestic violence been damned. Hell, it worked just dandy for closer Aroldis Chapman en route to a trade from the Yankees and a World Series ring with the Cubs after serving a 30-game suspension, first player penalized under the joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy.
Atkins suggested the legal cloud hanging over Osuna’s head wasn’t a wrecking ball swinging over the young Mexican, not for teams seriously inquiring about trades. He did say weighing the merits, picking this one, had been “exceptionally difficult, exceptionally complicated.”
I suspect Atkins sidled closest to the truth when he said, of the Osuna optics and the Jays: “It’s very difficult for accusations to not have influenced us in some way.”
For their part, the Astros claimed excitement about Osuna joining their fold — and willingness to extend second chances.
“The due diligence by our office was unprecedent,” Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said in a statement. “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.”
Osuna issued a statement, by and by, which didn’t sound remotely like him, had all the fingerprints of a PR bulletin.
“I am excited to join the Houston Astros and move forward with a fresh start to my career,” said the ex-Jay, just six days ahead of his MLB return eligibility, which would have made Osuna available for the series in Seattle next weekend.
“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 (Houston GM) Jeff Luhnow and the entire Astros organization for believing in me — I will not let them down.”
Well, while Osuna will likely get a warmer reception in Texas than he might have encountered in Toronto — I mean, we’ve entered this weird dimension when racists and homophobes get standing ovations in ballparks — I’m not too sure how well received he’ll be by new teammates.
This past March, an appalling video surfaced on YouTube of Danry Vasquez, a 24-year-old Venezuelan outfielder, punching his then-girlfriend in a stairwell. Vasquez was subsequently released by the Atlantic League Lancaster Barnstormers.
But Astros ace Justin Verlander tweeted this: “I hope the rest of your life without baseball is horrible. You deserve all that is coming your way.”
See Astro-you at the Rogers Centre come September.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno
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