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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas/Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Actions speak louder: How the Blue Jays and Astros handled the Osuna trade differently

Actions speak louder than words. Telling someone you’re going to do something and actually doing it are two completely different things. Shout, scream, boast or preach your actions from a mountaintop, but if nothing happens, those words are meaningless.

The Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros approached the Roberto Osuna transaction with two different philosophies. The Jays’ words were a little tone-deaf a few weeks ago, but ultimately they did the right thing. Those words didn’t correlate with the action that took place on Monday, yet the result spoke volumes.

Then, there’s the Houston Astros. Their words, pedalled by General Manager Jeff Luhnow, trumpeted the team’s “zero tolerance policy” on the day they acquired a player charged with assault and whose criminal investigation is still ongoing. A player who accepted a 75-game suspension from Major League Baseball. A league which doesn’t administer that stiff of a penalty for no good reason.

The Astros’ actions don’t speak louder than their words. Luhnow’s words are hollow. They mean nothing because he contradicted that proclamation by adding Osuna to their roster. Without saying it, Luhnow insinuated that talent trumps all and winning is everything. Richard Griffin put it best: “They have sold their soul for a closer who could divide the clubhouse.”

Two teams with two polar opposite philosophies when it comes to personnel decisions. The Blue Jays, looking to get out from the shadow of this player; the Astros, showing ruthlessness over anything else in the hopes of winning another World Series.

The Blue Jays aren’t complete saints in this scenario. Ross Atkins’ remarks from a few weeks back about Osuna, saying “Roberto is our closer. I see no reason why he wouldn’t be back” are puzzling in hindsight. This was the organization’s only misstep in this situation.

Atkins didn’t need to give the impression that it would be status quo when Osuna returned. Maybe it was all posturing on Atkins’ part, but in retrospect, it was unnecessary and unwise for Atkins to make it seem like the team would welcome back Osuna with open arms.

After the trade, Jon Morosi put out this tweet:

If this is truly what the Blue Jays organization decided internally, they didn’t communicate it publically, which is understandable. With an ongoing investigation, the team couldn’t lambaste Osuna publically because there are legal implications there, but also because it would’ve torpedoed his value completely.

If you thought the Jays didn’t get much from the Astros now, imagine the low-ball offers the Jays would’ve received had they stated Osuna wouldn’t play in a Blue Jays uniform anymore? We’re not privy to what happens behind closed doors at 1 Blue Jays Way. Maybe the team was going to trade Osuna anyway (for any number of reasons) and his arrest was the last straw.

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The Blue Jays were thrust into this situation unexpectedly. Osuna brought this upon himself by his actions and his former team suffered a consequence. The Jays didn’t ask to be brought into this. Given the complicated nature of an in-season suspension of this nature – something unprecedented in this era – the organization made the best they could of an untenable situation.

On the other hand, you have the Astros. While the Blue Jays had Osuna’s transgressions dumped on their lap, the Astros chose to wade into it, after performing what Luhnow deemed as “unprecedented due diligence”. If that’s the best they could do, the Astros’ due diligence department should be kicked to the curb.

On paper, the Astros get one of the best young closers in baseball to fortify their postseason run. What they add in talent, they also bring in Osuna’s baggage, which weighs tenfold. Up until this transaction, the Astros were the model baseball franchise of 2018. They won a World Series, they have exciting young players, the front office has embraced and excelled in the analytics department. On paper, they just added a 2-3 WAR reliever to their bullpen, but at what cost?

Baseball players talk about being “energized and reinvigorated” when their team makes splashy trades and acquires top-tier talent. The comments from a few anonymous Astros conveyed quite the opposite with Osuna joining their clubhouse. “I think it’s going to be really uncomfortable”, one player told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle.

This trade has the potential to upset the balance in the Astros clubhouse and it’s already a mixed reaction in the locker room towards Osuna’s arrival. If you’re an Astros player, how do you feel about bringing in a player who was arrested for domestic abuse and is still under investigation? Imagine that happened at your workplace; it would make your skin crawl.

It’s the same risk the Blue Jays faced if they let Osuna return to their clubhouse. Were Osuna’s teammates supposed to go back to normal and act like nothing has happened? It projected to make for a toxic environment, which is why the Blue Jays did the right thing and got Osuna out of town.

The problem doesn’t just “go away”. The Astros inherited Osuna and all the baggage, controversy and uncertainty that comes along with him. The 23-year-old also brings his talent to a World Series contender, but the Astros’ front office neglected the former to get the latter.

Atkins and the Blue Jays could’ve handled the optics of the situation a little differently, but they don’t come off looking cold and callous in this case. The Jays don’t deserve a Nobel Peace Prize by any means, but it couldn’t have been easy for them to make that trade.

In life, you take risks. Some are bigger than others. Then, there are risks that aren’t worth taking at all. 28 teams wisely chose that Osuna was not worth the risk. In their pursuit of a second consecutive World Series, the Astros did.

  • Ed Sprague Jr.'s kids

    I can understand the jays if they felt a probably osuna conviction would cause tracel problems. Otherwise i would have liked for them to have stuck with him and gotten the mental help he needs rather than just taking a supposed moral high ground and just dumping a “problem”

  • Justjayin

    O good grief… The constant high road commentary on this situation … l have no idea what he did or didnt do, but let the law deal with it. You can’t play baseball while in Jail .. Baseball executives job is to put a winning team together.
    Moral outrage is fashionable and all , but it gets old fast. Go live the life you think everyone else should.

    • Steve-O

      So you have no issues with the off-field behavior of professional athletes on teams you cheer for? The Jays employing a wife-beater, or a child molester, or a racist, none of it matters if they can help the team win? I’m genuinely curious where you would draw the line – and I’m sure you would draw it somewhere. So, then, we’re just quibbling over what is unacceptable.

      Letting “the law deal with it” is quaint, and completely inadequate. Charges get dropped, plea bargains happen, for all sorts of reasons. (Jose Reyes has his charges dropped when his wife refused to cooperate. So everyone should pretend nothing ever happened?)

      Everyone is entitled to make their own judgements, and in this case, the Blue Jays decided (correctly IMO) that what Osuna is accused of doing (and was suspended by MLB for allegedly doing – with no appeal, remember) was far too serious, and would upset too many fans, and having him return would put the franchise in an untenable situation. So they moved on. And they should be applauded for that.

  • Steve-O

    I’m a bit more forgiving of Atkins’ comment, in hindsight, because it strikes me as 100% posturing, as a way to maintain some amount of leverage in trade talks. Like it or not, GMs lie all the time in the pursuit of potential advantages and I don’t put much stock in that stuff.

    The more cynical view is that his comment was a sort of trial balloon floated out to gauge any possible fallout if they decided to keep Osuna. If that’s ever turns out to be the case, my opinion of this front office would diminish considerably.

  • Manny b

    Ian, I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of the Astros. They look bad. At the same time, let’s not forget that Osuna was not banned from playing baseball, any team is free to sign him. That team also takes on the baggage.

  • Dunny933

    The Blue Jays clubhouse was already a toxic enviorment. Obviously what he did was not right but this is a businesss. I don’t see Matt Bush being criticized as much as Osuna. The point is Toronto needs all the talent they can get because they will be hurting for a long time.

          • Dunny933

            If they had good chemistry as a team they would at least hit .240 as a team. Start with grichuk guy makes a great backup but for him to play everyday sets a bad vibe for the team. Mediocrity like his is accepted on the team and when more than half your lineup is hitting under .250 shows these guys are just playing for themselves and not the team. This is an example of bad morale meshing together hence bad chemistry. I hate to say it but Osuna was probably a leader in that bullpen. Regression was always going to happen with 2 TJ’s in your history but he had been in the Jays system since he was 16. If you guys have ever been to mexico you would know it’s not an easy place to grow up especially dropping out of school at 12 to help your father run his farm. Osuna if anything made the enviorment better. Yes he beat his girlfriend but everyone must of done something in there 20’s that there not proud of. You might have came on to that passed out girl or did a few lines of coke. Osuna is not the problem with the clubhouse. It’s the scrap metal that Ross has acquired over the offseason that overshadows the other players with decent attitude and enthusiasm to win

  • Oz Rob

    There’s one aspect about Osuna that is purely baseball related that hasn’t really been discussed. He’s had Tommy John surgery and although he’s young, young relievers have a long history of flaming out due to arm injuries. Osuna seemed to have on and off issues with his velocity and was not the lights out closer we all seem to remember. He was prone to some prolonged bad spells (and of course some prolonged periods of dominance). I wonder if the spectre of health concerns had some influence on the rumours that the Jays considered dealing him before the year. Perhaps we dodged a bullet in more ways than one. Time will tell.

  • El Cabeza

    I can understand why there’s no REPLY button beside the comment that uses batting average as the test for team performance and quantifies the difference good chemistry will have on a team’s BA.

    But then I kept reading and he equated domestic assault and rape with experimenting with cocaine – y’know something we’re likely to have done in our 20s, but luckily aren’t getting charged for. Why is that comment even still there?