The art of trading in professional sports has become unceremoniously mechanical and businesslike. In the analytical environment we inhabit today, player transactions often forget one of the two words making up its identification: the player.
A lot has been made recently about Brandon Taubman, the assistant general manager of the Houston Astros, who in celebration of Jose Altuve hitting a walk-off homer to clinch the American League pennant “turned to a group of three female reporters, including one wearing a purple domestic-violence awareness bracelet, and yelled, half a dozen times, ‘Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f—— glad we got Osuna!'”
This situation not only reflects a crossroads of individual head-scratching and downright disgusting individual decisions, but it also shows the flawed systems of rewards in the greater institution of professional baseball (or most sports, to be honest).
Roberto Osuna is an all-star closer for the Astros and was charged last year of assaulting the mother of his daughter when he was a member of the Toronto Blue Jays — she later did not testify because she returned home to Mexico and refused to return to Toronto, and the charges of the prosecution were withdrawn. Major League Baseball issued Osuna with the third-largest suspension ever for a domestic violence incident, but the opportunistic Astros decided to make a transaction.
Let’s buy-low on a distressed asset and capitalize on this window of opportunity. In other words, the Astros traded for Osuna while he was still suspended.
Objectively, the numbers don’t lie — adding Osuna to any bullpen will make it better. But insert the player element into the transaction side of things, and you’re left with the team having to put up thinly veiled statements to defend itself. Like this one:
“Quite frankly,” Luhnow, the General Manager of the Astros, said, “I believe that you can have a zero-tolerance policy and also have an opportunity to give people second chances when they have made mistakes in the past in other organizations. That’s kind of how we put those two things together.”
Making the whole situation ickier is that Osuna nearly lost the Astros the game: In the top of the 9th inning in Game 6 of the ALCS against my beloved New York Yankees, the much-maligned closer allowed a game-tying home run to Yankees second basemen DJ Lemahieu. Not lost is the sad irony that as Altuve smacked the game-winning blast was Aroldis Chapman on the mound for the Yankees, who the team acquired in the fall of 2015 while he was suspended after being accused of choking and firing eight gunshots during an argument with his girlfriend.
ESPN’s Jeff Passan called Taubman a product of the Astros culture, which seems hard to argue with. But with suspensions rather lenient and the image of the superstar more important than those caught in the crosshairs of their poor decisions, teams will continue to acquire players with baggage to compete for championships. General managers will make player transactions with only the numbers of the player in mind.
Apply more stringent transactions, MLB. If not, you can continue to be a giant, corporate schmuck.