On Wednesday evening the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays agreed to a 12 player deal that will send Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio north of the border in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, Henderson Alvarez, and a package of prospects. The size of this trade is somewhat staggering, as is the amount of salary the Marlins have been able to lop off over the last 4 months in the wake of last offseason’s unsuccessful spending spree. This particular deal isn’t quite as large as the Boston-Los Angeles waiver deadline deal, but Toronto is still agreeing to assume nearly $200 million in contracts while taking a big risk in talent. The prevailing narrative that’s currently being written around the baseball-sphere is that this is business as usual for the Marlins whereas the Blue Jays are primed to turn into an AL East powerhouse after making such a splashy move. But I disagree with that sentiment and I don’t believe that’s how things will turn out, and here are a couple of reasons why:
1. The Marlins, as constructed before the trade, weren’t going to win the playoffs and would have struggled even play .500 baseball.
All the talk a year ago about Miami’s offseason spending turned out to be just that, talk. After a hot month of May, the Marlins floundered like a fish out of water the rest of the season, finishing in the NL East cellar, 29 games back of the Washington Nationals. Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell were supposed to come in and turn around the franchise after a dismal 70-92 season in 2011, but they actually finished one game worse. The offense was woefully undermanned, finishing 2nd to last in runs scored in the National League, and the pitching staff wasn’t much better, finishing last in strikeouts and 12th out of 16 in ERA.
The 2012 edition of the Marlins was poorly constructed from the start, lacking depth, power arms out of the bullpen, and anything resembling a #1 at the top of the rotation. 2013 wasn’t going to turn out much differently even with new manager Mike Redmond and hitting coach Tino Martinez en tow. The Marlins minor league system has been in tatters for years, ranking near the bottom of baseball in most major publications (Fangraphs, Baseball America, etc.) for the past couple of years. This trade, coupled with the earlier ones involving Detroit and Los Angeles, gives Miami a chance to turn their franchise around sooner rather than later. For this reason, more than any other, it’s actually an intelligent move for Miami to make.
As for the players acquired by the Marlins, Yunel Escobar is a solid piece and should make up for some of the loss of Hanley Ramirez, even if his act wears thin on new manager Mike Redmond. The package of prospects Miami received is a solid, if unspectacular haul. Pitcher Henderson Alvarez will turn 23 at the start of next season and has a solid sinker which should play nicely in the cavernous confines of Marlins Park. He doesn’t strike many batters out however, so he projects as a mid-rotation pitcher at best. The Marlins also picked up young lefty Justin Nicolino, the 5th rated prospect in the Jays’ system. Shortstop Adieny Hechavarria is also 23 and has shown a slick glove in the middle infield.
But the real prize from the deal will probably end up being Jake Marisnick, a centerfield prospect who turns 22 next March. Marisnick was the 2nd rated prospect in Toronto’s system going into the 2012 season and he was the 67th rated prospect in all of baseball. He’s struggled in the handful of games he’s played above the Double-A level (which is normal for a prospect) so he probably won’t arrive in the Majors until 2014 at the earliest. At the lower levels in the minor leagues he’s demonstrated the ability to hit for power and steal bases, which could make him a future 20-20 player down the road.
Don’t get me wrong though. This trade is still soooo typically Marlins that it makes me sick. Jokes were flying one offseason ago about how quickly Loria and co. could dump all their new acquisitions if things took a turn for the worst. Well, one year later and each player Loria has invested in is a goner. If I were Giancarlo Stanton, the only talented player left on a putrid looking roster, I would be incensed and probably demand a trade myself.
If I were a Marlins fan I would be outraged. Loria has demonstrated, time and time again, that stuffing his wallet with luxury tax money is more important than building a year-in-year-out competitive franchise. He’s easily the worst owner in Major League Baseball and if not for Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, he’d be the worst in professional sports. Loria betrayed the trust of the citizens of Florida, whose tax dollars financed most of the Marlins shiny green new ballpark, and he’s proven himself to be nothing but a 2-bit conman whose only care is the money in his back pocket. Nobody is going to show up to the ballpark to watch this team in 2013, and that’s exactly what Loria deserves.
2. Toronto just got better, but not by as much as you would think.
Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos has been biding his time looking to make a big splash for a couple of offseasons now, and with this trade he finally has everybody’s attention. Toronto has been searching for a top of the rotation ace since they traded Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, and in acquiring Josh Johnson they may have finally found one. The only question is which Josh Johnson the Marlins are getting. Is he going to resemble his 2010 form, when he smoked National League hitters, striking out nearly 10 batters per 9 while putting up the league’s lowest ERA? Or is Johnson going to struggle with injury, location, and velocity like he did a year ago?
If the Jays have picked up the former than they may be a legitimate playoff threat after all. If they picked up the latter, it’s still a nice acquisition because Johnson will be a free agent following the 2013 season and even in his diminished state he’s easily better than half the guys Toronto gave innings to a year ago. Mark Buehrle will also provide nice middle of the rotation fodder and is a safe bet to post an ERA somewhere around 3.80-4.00 while winning 12-15 games. For a franchise that had nobody throw over 200 innings and had only 1 pitcher post a sub-4.50 ERA, Johnson and Buehrle represent a significant upgrade.
On the other side of the ball, Reyes and Bonifacio both should be a nice fit on the fast track at the Rogers Centre. Each hitter brings quite a bit of speed to the table and Reyes in particular can provide a top of the order presence that was missing in 2012. Blue Jay lead-off hitters ranked 29th in baseball in on-base percentage (an ugly .294) in 2012 and adding Reyes and his career .342 OBP should most assuredly help. Rajai Davis and Reyes alone should each steal 40 bases and their potential to reek havoc on the base paths appears to be limitless in front of power hitters like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
But I’m not exactly sure that this trade makes the Blue Jays real contenders in the AL East. The team has an excellent offensive core, one that’s capable of finishing in the top-5 in baseball in runs scored, but it’s pitching staff still leaves plenty to be desired and the bullpen, quite frankly, is an absolute mess. Anthopoulos still needs to shore up the back end of his rotation while picking up at least 2 solid relievers to reinforce the team around the edges. There is still a long way to go this offseason and there is no doubt in my mind that the rest of the AL East teams still have plenty of moves to make as well in the offseason auction. I still feel comfortable picking Tampa Bay and New York ahead of Toronto, although the Jays have cut last year’s 20 win gap in half. With some good health and good fortune in 2013, there is no reason this squad can’t make the playoffs.
But it’s all going to hinge on Josh Johnson’s right arm, and whether or not he can rediscover his 2010 form, when he was a true Major League ace. If Johnson can throw somewhere around 200 innings and Brendan Morrow continues his growth, the Jays will have a pitching staff worthy of their offense. But if Johnson falters, it’ll be another year of mediocrity and another season with a bottom 10 pitching staff north of the border.