Almost all trade deadline coverage is accounting, in one form or another. The center of every transaction grade and roundtable discussion is the same—an assessment of a player’s value, measured in dollars or wins or otherwise, stacked against the value of his return. But there’s another dimension to this process, one that can warp all those measurements and disrupt the whole formula, and that’s a certain moral accounting.
On Monday, Toronto sent reliever Roberto Osuna to Houston in exchange for former closer Ken Giles and a pair of pitching prospects, Hector Perez and David Paulino. The moral accounting is inescapable here, part of what set the groundwork that made the deal possible in the first place. Suspended 75 games after a league investigation determined that he breached the joint domestic violence policy, Osuna hasn’t pitched in almost three months. At a court date scheduled for this Wednesday, he plans to plead not guilty to a charge of assault in Toronto. By the end of this weekend, he’ll have finished serving out his suspension; barring any complications at his hearing, he’ll then be able to return to the mound. And unlike performance-enhancing drug suspensions, domestic violence suspensions do not include a postseason ban, so Osuna will be free for the Astros’ October run, too.
So what, exactly, did this mean for the reliever’s trade value? An optimistic view would be that the situation should only have driven interest down—if not due to any front office concerns about the ethics of acquiring a player facing an assault charge, then at least due to their concerns about the perception of acquiring such a player. It’s easier to assign a dollar value to optics than to morals, after all. If that last bit seems awfully cynical to include in something described as an “optimistic” view, well, consider an alternative perspective. A trade landscape with lowered interest is just a trade landscape with lowered prices. If you choose to assess value strictly in baseball terms rather than in moral ones, then a player currently suspended for domestic violence is not a liability. He’s a market inefficiency.
The Astros didn't seem particularly concerned here, regarding the situation's ethics or its optics. "The due diligence by our front office was unprecedented," Houston GM Jeff Luhnow said in a statement. (It's worth noting here that there are essentially no public details about Osuna's arrest or the league investigation that led to his suspension.) "We are confident that Osuna is remorseful, has willfully complied with all consequences related to his past behavior, has proactively engaged in counseling, and will fully comply with our zero tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind." His statement was paired with an apology from Osuna.
The primary terms of front offices are, of course, baseball terms. “We are human beings, and everything is a variable as we’re making decisions,” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told the media Monday. “But ultimately, this was a good baseball deal that made sense to us.”
As a baseball deal, it does make sense—plenty of it. The Astros are such a well-rounded club that it doesn’t seem quite right to consider anything a true weak spot, but if they’ve had one lately, it’s been their bullpen. That’s due in large part to the collapse of Giles, who was a key part of last year’s championship team but whose string of rocky performances earned him a demotion to the minor leagues three weeks ago. They took a step toward fixing that by trading a set of prospects for Minnesota’s Ryan Pressly earlier this week, but they’re taking a far bigger step now. Though Osuna made just a handful of appearances this season before being arrested and then suspended, he looked as sharp as ever. The 23-year-old has consistently been among the league’s most effective relievers since making his debut in 2015, and he’s under team control for two more seasons after this year.
Giles is the flashiest name in the return package, and despite his recent struggles, he could make for a compelling reclamation project. If he returns to peak form, he can easily be just as impressive as Osuna; he, too, is under team control for two more seasons. Meanwhile, Perez and Paulino aren’t elite prospects, but they’re solid ones, and logical investments for a club whose focus is more on the future than the present.
As Atkins said, it’s a good baseball deal. But it took some unseemly moral accounting to allow for the precise terms of this good deal—making it at the same time, if not a bad deal, then at least an ugly one.