For the first time in over a decade, the Toronto Blue Jays grabbed major sports headlines both north and south of the Border with a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins (who were a train wreck this season). Heading to the Blue Jays are Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck in exchange for Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects Jake Marisnick, Adeiny Hechavarria and Justin Niccolino. The Marlins are also reportedly including $4 million cash in the deal.
As exciting as this trade is for the Blue Jays, they have added three very expensive star players, two of whom may not offer substantially better production than their counterparts traded away. The third star player can walk away as a free agent next season. And to get all this, the Jays gave up a decent shortstop and starting pitcher, each under team control at vastly lower prices, and three promising prospects. I want to jump on the bandwagon and declare this trade a massive victory for the Blue Jays, but there is more to this trade than meets the eye.
As I previously argued, Yunel Escobar had to be traded because of his abysmal behaviour and performance this season. Despite his shortcomings, Escobar is capable of being a shortstop with a value comparable to Reyes. For argument’s sake, let’s compare Escobar’s stats in his two best seasons in the last 4 years, with Reyes’ two best seasons in the last 4:
The difference between these two can be as little as 6 runs created and 0.1 wins above a replacement player in a season, and Escobar is arguably a better overall fielder than Reyes. Escobar is under team control at $5 million per season for the next three seasons. Reyes will make $10 million, $16 million and $22 million per season over the next three seasons, plus has at least two further seasons at $22 million per year. Yes, Reyes offers more consistency than Escobar and that is part of what the Blue Jays are counting on, but is the difference between a good year of Escobar and a good year of Reyes really worth up to $17 million per year? If Reyes can repeat his 2011 success, he may be worth that investment.
Mark Buerhle is a player who has great name value despite very mediocre stats. His lowest FIP in the past five years was 3.90, and 2012 was the first time since 2005 that he posted a WHIP below 1.25. Buerhle is a workhorse who has pitched over 200 innings each season since 2001, and this is his greatest value to his team. Every pitching staff needs a reliable workhorse to eat innings in the middle or back of the rotation, but is it worth paying a 33-year-old pitcher $11 million, $18 million and $19 million over each of the next three years for this? Alvarez had a major setback in 2012, but his 2011 stats, although a small sample size, prove that he has the potential to provide Buerhle-level production at a fraction of the cost. Two years ago, Alvarez posted a 3.97 FIP and 1.13 WHIP in 10 starts in his rookie season, and he earned just $482,900 last year and won’t be a free agent until 2018.
Johnson is a great addition and a potential stud pitcher. Much like Brandon Morrow during his time in Seattle, Johnson has really only scratched the surface of his true potential with the Marlins. He has averaged better than 8 K’s per nine in his big league career, and has posted a sub-3.00 FIP in two of the last three seasons. He is a sublime talent, but unfortunately is a free agent after 2013.
If Johnson walks as a free agent after 2013, this trade will amount to Reyes, Buerhle and two insignificant players for Escobar, Alvarez, and three good prospects. Marisnick, Hechavarria and Niccolino could turn into solid Major Leaguers. Given the disparity in salaries and the potentially similar production between some of the players traded and acquired by the Blue Jays, this trade could be a perilous course of action.
One cannot, however, deny that this trade is a bold, fresh move by the Blue Jays and their ownership. It has brought three star players to the Blue Jays with name value, and communicates a willingness to invest in a winning baseball team. It will also spark fan and media interest and bring more people to Rogers Centre in 2013. However, many people have wrongly declared this trade a resounding victory for Toronto simply based on the appeal of the names of the players acquired from Miami. Reyes and Buerhle must continue to perform at their 2012 levels or better, and Johnson must pitch in Toronto for more than one season to make this trade worthwhile. It is a tremendous financial and strategic risk for the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays are much better today than they were two days ago. But they also have much less financial flexibility and still have gaping holes at first base, second base and left field. Blue Jays fans should celebrate this trade, but they must recognize the risk involved and that the Jays need to do more to improve their team before they can start dreaming of taking down the Yankees or the rest of the A.L. East.
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