The Toronto Blue Jays got an early start on their preparations for the 2013 Major League Baseball season late Tuesday when they took advantage of a Miami Marlins fire-sale and in one fell swoop significantly enhanced their chances of contending in the competitive American League East.
Neither team would comment on the transaction Tuesday evening as the MLB commissioner’s office took some time to review the deal, but that the Blue Jays were by far the dominant Canadian sports newsmaker on a mid-November night speaks to the magnitude of the trade, which is likely to include 12 players and is already being touted as one of the most significant in the history of both franchises.
Coming to Toronto are pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, infielder Emilio Bonafacio and shortstop Jose Reyes—the most high-profile of the Jays’ acquisitions.
Reyes, 29, hit .287 last season between the leadoff and number-three slots and also recorded 40 steals, third-most in the National League. He signed a six-year, $106 million deal with the Marlins last December, and the total financial commitment the Jays will be making to the five players is in excess of $165 million.
Heading to Miami are shortstops Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino, catcher Jeff Mathis and outfielder Jack Marisnick.
While the moves are devastating to a Marlins club that is clearly in salary-shedding mode less than a year after opening a new, state-of-the-art ballpark, the Jays have suddenly become relevant again in their division. And given the way they closed out a disastrous 2012 campaign less than six weeks ago, that’s saying something.
Of course, it’s easy to forget the promise the Blue Jays seemed to hold when the first pitch was thrown last April, but after coming into June with a respectable 27-24 record it all went to pieces when Brandon Morrow, who had established himself as the staff ace, succumbed to injury during the first inning of a game against the Washington Nationals.
Morrow had tossed a three-hit, complete-game shutout less than a month before, and his loss signalled the beginning of an injury crisis that would end up claiming much of the rotation as well as the likes of catcher J.P. Arencibia, third-baseman Brett Lawrie and outfielder Jose Bautista, among others.
As if that wasn’t enough, in mid-September the clubhouse was thrown into disarray when Escobar was photographed with an anti-gay slur written into his eye black.
Fair or not, manager John Farrell’s fate was probably sealed as the fallout from the incident cast an embarrassing pall over the franchise, and while upper management did him no favours by suspending Escobar for only three games, questions about the 50-year-old’s control of the clubhouse were quick to surface.
On October 21 Farrell was released from his contract to assume the managerial duties of the Boston Red Sox, where he had previously worked for four years as a pitching coach.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has yet to replace Farrell, although after the events of Tuesday Rogers Centre will undoubtedly be a much more attractive option to prospective managers than it would have been the day before.
After all, it’s not merely the acquisition of players, even good players, that suddenly turns a baseball club into a destination, but rather the symbolic statement from ownership that mediocrity will not morph into normalcy—especially with Bautista still in the ranks alongside a decent supporting cast that also includes Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion, Anthony Gose and Colby Rasmus.
It goes without saying that days like Tuesday are important for fans as well. Many of them had expected Anthopolous to go hard after Prince Fielder and Yu Darvish last winter, and the disappointment of his inaction, coupled with the profound discouragement of the last few months of the season, could quite easily have combined to make this a very cold winter for the 35-year-old.
Instead, he has their attention. He has the attention of everybody in baseball. Making what might be the Blue Jays’ most important transaction since they traded for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar 12 years ago next month will do that for you. And he, as much as anyone else, knows how that one turned out.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer