Well before the winter meetings began, the Marlins and Blue Jays unofficially kicked off the hot stove season with a blockbuster trade of epic and controversial proportions.
It took Bud Selig some time to sign off on the swap, but Miami was successful in shipping Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to Toronto in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, Jeff Mathis and Jake Marisnick.
The trade wiped $146.5 million of future payroll obligations off the books for the Marlins just a few months after they opened a shiny new ballpark and less than a year after they spent freely to add Reyes, Buehrle and Heath Bell.
Miami has traded 12 Major League players since July, including Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers), Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante (Tigers) and Bell (Diamondbacks).
The deal obviously reeks of horrible ownership. It appears as though Jeffrey Loria got his new ballpark, spent hardily to construct a star-laden team and then had a severe case of buyer’s remorse when the Marlins struggled. They finished the 2012 season with 69 wins and their worst record since 1999.
After Buehrle accused the Marlins of lying to him repeatedly during their courtship, it’s hard to deny that Loria is officially the most-hated owner in baseball -- if not all of sports. Fans have a strong case against Loria and the front office because they claimed a taxpayer-financed ballpark would ensure higher revenue and payrolls. The team’s claim after the 2012 season? A reduction in payroll was necessary because of lower-than-expected attendance.
The issue at the heart of this trade, and most things Marlins, is that Loria operates his franchise like a business first and a professional team second.
While the court of public opinion has given the Marlins a collective ‘F’ for the deal, it actually does make some baseball sense. Reyes was good and healthy, but not quite as productive as he was in his contract year with the Mets. The reality is he is unlikely to live up to the six-year, $106 million deal he signed last offseason. Buehrle pitched well, but like Reyes his production didn’t match the contract (four years, $58 million) he received.
In return the Marlins added a host of young talent.
Alvarez made 31 starts for the Blue Jays as a 22-year-old, posting a 4.85 ERA. Nicolino was a second-round pick back in 2010 and is projecting as a high-strikeout pitcher (8.6 Ks per nine innings in Single-A last season). DeSclafani had a very strong debut season with Single-A Lansing in 2012, striking out more than three times as many batters as he walked and recording a 3.37 ERA.
Marisnick could become the sleeper of the deal. Baseball America rated him as Toronto’s third-best prospect after the 2011 season. He is a former third-round pick with a very strong arm and projects as a plus-defender.
Grade for Marlins: C-
The Marlins get a slightly below average grade because of all the deception employed by ownership and the front office. They may not be a large market team, but one poor season after opening a ballpark isn’t grounds for gutting your roster of almost all their star power.
However, there is a chance that the haul they received from the Blue Jays will put them in position to contend for a surprise World Series appearance down the road, much like in 1997 and 2003.
Grade for Blue Jays: B+
Alex Anthopoulos took a huge chance when he agreed to take on this much salary, but fans in Toronto are thrilled at the prospect of entering a season as the favorite to win the American League East over the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and Rays.
The price tag was high, in terms of both prospects and future payroll obligations, but the Blue Jays are hoping that Reyes, Buehrle and Johnson will combine to win a lot more than they did during their one season together with the Marlins.
Reyes won’t turn 30 until June and comes to the AL as a great offensive shortstop, a premium position this offseason, with prime years remaining. He won the NL batting title just two seasons ago. When healthy, he has averaged close to four Wins Above Replacement, and until the last two seasons he has contributed defensively as well (more than 1.0 dWAR three times in 10 seasons).
Johnson might not carry the same name recognition as Buehrle, but he could provide much greater returns. He’ll turn 29 next month and has just one season left on his contract should things not work out in Canada. Injuries limited him to just nine starts in 2011, but Johnson has posted an ERA above 3.81 in each of the last five years. He has gone 44-27 over that period and averaged close to a strikeout per inning.
There is a chance that Johnson will only spend a season with the Blue Jays, but if Anthopoulos’ gamble pays off he could willingly re-sign with the new ruler in baseball’s most powerful division.