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Roberto Osuna’s assault case is a big deal for baseball

With the facts not yet known, the outcome of his case could force substantial changes inside of baseball.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Tampa Bay Rays Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

On May 7th, 2018, Toronto Blue Jays’ 23-year-old star closer Roberto Osuna was arrested by Toronto police for assaulting a woman. Not much more information is known at this point, as the police will not disclose any further information in order to protect the victim for obvious reasons. At this time, we have to wait until his initial scheduled court date of June 18th to learn more.

As soon as the incident occurred, commissioner Rob Manfred took action via the new domestic violence policy in the collective bargaining agreement and placed Osuna on administrative leave pending the facts of the case. While this isn’t technically a punishment, we along with Manfred don’t know any facts other than Osuna was arrested for assault.

There haven’t been any leaks of information from inside the court or police department, which either speaks to the integrity of the Canadian judicial system, or to the nature and scope of this specific case. While we don’t have much more information at this time, I did want to talk a little about what this means for Osuna and more-so the league.

The difference in this case, which is why the impact will be widened, is we’re in the midst of a societal change right now. With meaningful and important movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up sweeping the United States and elsewhere, this changes how everyone reacts, from the front office and coaching staff, to fellow players and even fans and observers.

There are a few key points that affects how this case moves forward. First, the Canadian Judicial System is a bit different than America’s is. They don’t have a specific charge for “domestic violence.” Instead, domestic violence falls into whatever category the actual offense is, from physical assault to sexual assault. Since Osuna was charged with “assault” we can surmise this wasn’t sexual assault, but rather likely physical violence of some kind. Second, the case is going to move much slower than it would in America if the case goes to trial; it could take between 18-30 months according to some reports to be concluded. He’s sure not to be reinstated until the case is concluded or at the very least all of the facts are known.

One similar case is what Aroldis Chapman did back in 2015, when he reportedly fired eight gun shots into his garage and choked his girlfriend. Chapman was suspended for 30 games per the new Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse policy. Sadly, after that the stigma seems to have faded allowing him to resume his career as if nothing ever happened. In fact, he was allowed to play in Grapefruit league games during his suspension so he never really left since the court case was dropped due to “conflicting accounts” and “insufficient information.” Although Chapman admitted to the conduct in an interview with Rob Manfred prior to returning, which is surprising that it didn’t have an effect on how soon he was allowed to return.

This shows that there is a need to update the policy: players that commit acts of assault and admit to such acts or are convicted should have a far harsher penalty than one that allows you to pitch in a lower level during your “suspension.” How many jobs out there would allow you to return after committing such an act with almost zero consequence? That’s not to say Osuna is guilty, but considering the worst case scenario, it would be unconscionable even in the short term to let him walk.

But if we take that he committed an act of assault of some kind as fact, then the outcome of this case really rests on the seriousness of the offense. If this was some sort of heinous act, it’s possible, although unlikely, that Osuna would be banished from baseball similar to what they have done recently with Luke Heimlich’s draft selection. If it’s something less brutal, they would likely allow him back. However, if Osuna is sentenced to jail time that would prevent him from playing and furthermore would put a potential comeback in gray waters, similar to what happened to Matt Bush.

Bush, then a 26 year-old pitching prospect, was arrested back in 2012 for an intoxicated hit and run almost killing a man riding a motorcycle when he ran over him and fled the scene. Bush ended up being incarcerated for over two years before being released from custody in 2015. He was signed to a minor league deal by the Rangers two months after his release but with certain terms which restricted him from consuming any alcohol or operating a motor vehicle among other things. Although he did make a comeback he spent almost three years in custody and as a result was obviously unable to play in the league.

One difference with those two cases is that Osuna is much younger than Bush was when his incident happened, and the interplay of alcoholism and reckless behavior is quite a bit different than domestic violence. Many teams were hesitant to touch Bush—even the Rangers were at first. So if Osuna ends up in a Bush-type situation, this could be disastrous for any chance of a comeback. And if there is a comeback, which we saw with Jose Reyes after he was arrested for allegedly throwing his wife through a glass door, the implications are even worse: the player receives a comeback tour with praise, which is all the more traumatizing for onward looking victims of abuse.

The questions will continue to loom over Osuna and how the rest of his career will shake out until at the earliest his first appearance in court on the 18th. In all likelihood his season is basically finished give how far into the season it is and a strong chance that the case will play out in court for at least a couple of months. While Osuna with his lawyer focus on defending himself in court, the MLB front office should and will likely have to re-examine their domestic violence-related policy, especially if this something far worse than what we’ve seen before.