Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - In one Major League Baseball city, it is
the best of times. In another, it is the worst of times.
In Toronto, this promises to be the spring of hope. In Miami, thanks to owner
Jeffrey Loria's fire sale, there's no doubt this is the winter of despair.
When Commissioner Bud Selig officially approved the blockbuster deal between
the Blue Jays and Marlins last week, it immediately boosted Toronto into
contender status and doomed Miami to what will almost unquestionably be a 100-
Competing for a postseason berth in the American League East has been quite
difficult for Toronto, which has had to contend with the New York Yankees and
Boston Red Sox - traditionally the two biggest-payroll teams in the sport.
Lately, the Tampa Bay Rays have become a consistent contender, too. Even the
Baltimore Orioles took a big step forward and landed a wild-card berth this
It's somewhat hard to believe, but Toronto has not appeared in a postseason
game since Joe Carter's 1993 World Series-clinching home run in Game 6 against
Philadelphia. To the Blue Jays front office's credit, though, it saw an
opening to break through in the AL East next season and decided to go for it.
The Yankees' offense struggled mightily in the playoffs. With a stated goal of
paring down its payroll in the next couple of years so that it can finally
avoid paying luxury tax, it doesn't seem likely that New York will be able to
throw crazy money around to patch its holes.
The Red Sox finished in last place last season. Unless since-fired manager
Bobby Valentine was the sole problem, Boston is unlikely to challenge for the
AL East title in 2013.
Baltimore and Tampa Bay are still expected to be good, so Toronto is hardly a
lock to make its first playoff appearance since 1993. Still, by merely
to take on multiple high-priced players from the Marlins, the Blue Jays have
instantly become a formidable team.
Toronto's offense was already pretty good; the 2012 Blue Jays ranked sixth in
the majors with 198 home runs and 13th with 716 runs scored. Now, they've
one of the best table-setters in baseball in shortstop Jose Reyes. The 2011
National League batting champion will be an improvement offensively,
defensively and on the base paths over last year's starting shortstop - Yunel
Escobar, who went to Miami in this trade.
Emilio Bonifacio doesn't have the stature of Reyes, but he's quite a useful
player on a 25-man roster. He can play practically any defensive position
adequately, hit for average and steal bases. He's the perfect utilityman, but
could wind up as the Jays' starting second baseman.
John Buck is an overpaid, declining backup catcher who is owed $6 million in
the final season of his contract. Toronto had to accept him in order to
complete the deal, but he'll be a decent enough backup if the Jays don't worry
too much about the salary figure.
The biggest gain from the trade from Toronto's perspective, however, was the
addition of pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle. Last year, the Jays' team
earned run average (4.64) ranked 26th among the 30 teams in the majors.
Coming off a shoulder injury from the previous season, Johnson had a subpar
2012 campaign. He finished 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts. He'll only be 29
on Opening Day, however, and he has shown ace qualities in the past. If
healthy, it's reasonable to expect Johnson will be the Jays' No. 1 starter and
one of the better pitchers in the American League.
Buerhle has pitched more than 200 innings and posted double digits in wins for
12 consecutive seasons. He'll be 34 on Opening Day, but he really hasn't shown
any signs of sharp decline. Yes, he'll be moving from a top pitchers' park in
Miami to a hitters' park in Toronto, but he's pitched successfully in a
bandbox before, having spent 11-plus seasons with the Chicago White Sox.
Adding Johnson and Buerhle to a rotation that also includes Brandon Morrow and
Ricky Romero should greatly improve Toronto's pitching - perhaps even enough
to end the team's long postseason drought.
Meanwhile, the postseason will be the last thing on Miami fans' minds in 2013.
Drawing fans has never been easy for the Marlins, even during their 1997 and
2003 World Series years. The franchise never could capitalize on the momentum
that winning the 1997 Series should have established, because virtually all
high-priced players from that team were shipped away by the start of the 1998
The same thing is happening now, with one difference: The Marlins aren't
off a successful season this time around. They finished last in the National
League East with a 69-93 record, this after having entered the year with an
all-time franchise high $112 million payroll.
Miami seemed intent on competing. It looked like a show of good faith from the
organization, after taxpayers had been saddled with about 80 percent of the
$634 million price tag on the Marlins' new stadium. When things didn't go so
well in the first half of last season, though, Miami dealt Hanley Ramirez and
Annibal Sanchez at the trade deadline.
Including the blockbuster deal with Toronto, Miami has already traded six of
the eight position players in its 2012 Opening Day lineup. Only Giancarlo
Stanton - one of the league's top 10 offensive players, but one who will
probably only lead the league in intentional walks in 2013 - and Logan
remain. And there's actually been some talk that Morrison could be headed out
Three-fifths of the Marlins' April 2012 starting rotation is gone, as well as
three relievers from the Opening Day roster.
The trades have saved the Marlins $163.75 million in guaranteed salaries
through the 2018 season, more than half of which would have gone to Reyes. The
Marlins' payroll currently projects to be in the $36 million range for 2013,
which is less than one-third the team's 2012 Opening Day payroll and about $23
million less than that of the 2012 Oakland Athletics, who had the lowest MLB
payroll last year.
So, what do the Marlins have to show for the trade? They got Escobar, s
shortstop who batted .253 with a disappointing .644 OPS last season. They got
another infielder, Adeiny Hechavarria, who has split time between shortstop
third base. Hechavarria projects to be a solid defender and a mediocre hitter.
They also picked up veteran catcher Jeff Mathis, who will probably produce
similar numbers to Buck in a backup role but make one-quarter of Buck's
Outfielder Jake Marisnick, 21, has the tools to be a solid offensive
contributor someday. He struggled when promoted to Double-A New Hampshire last
summer, but he was young for that level. He could eventually prove to be the
best Miami acquisition of the seven-player package.
The Marlins also added three pitchers, including one-time highly regarded
prospect Henderson Alvarez, who was 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA for the Jays last
year. The move to a pitchers' park and to the National League should help him,
but he's unlikely to make Marlins fans forget Josh Johnson.
The other two pitchers Miami acquired - Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani
- provide promise, especially Nicolino, given that he's just 21 years old and
is coming off a strong season at Class A Lansing (10-4, 2.46 ERA). DeSclafani
was solid at Lansing, too. The 22-year-old righty had an 11-3 record and 3.37
The young players Miami obtained all have a chance to be major-league
contributors one day. If so, trade analysts will probably be more kind to the
Marlins five or so years from now.
Even if all seven new Marlins reach their ceiling, there are just a couple of
things impossible to overlook in Miami right now:
First, how will this team of Stanton and a bunch of no-names draw any fans to
the ballpark? Opening a new state-of-the-art park last season with a team
expected to contend for a playoff berth, Miami still ranked just 12th out of
16 NL teams in attendance.
The novelty of the new stadium is gone, and so is any hope for contention.
Expect more than a few four-digit attendance figures in 2013. Additionally,
when the team eventually becomes good again, will there be enough fans around
Case in point: The Montreal Expos had the best record in baseball when a
players' strike wiped out the 1994 postseason. Disappointed fans never again
adequately filled the seats in Montreal, and the team eventually moved to
Washington. (Loria, for the record, owned the Expos from 1999-2002. He sold
them after striking out in efforts to get public funding for a new stadium).
Second, when the Marlins are ready to contend again, how will they be able to
attract free agents? Last offseason, the Marlins signed Reyes to a six-year
deal and Buerhle to a four-year pact. Both were traded away to Toronto after
just one season, and that's possibly a location they would never have chosen
in free agency.
Sure, South Florida has some fine selling points, but will future free agents
be ready to look past the cases of Reyes and Buerhle when deciding where to
Third, how will this affect other teams' ability to get largely taxpayer-
stadiums built? Right now, it sure looks like Loria played Miami taxpayers for
fools. You'd better believe that other cities will use the Marlins' situation
as evidence of how bad some investments like this can be.
It worked out OK for Loria, though. By saving over $163 million in guaranteed
salaries with the Toronto trade, he can easily pay in full his share of debt
for the ballpark. Too bad that Miami will still be paying off its debt - and
watching bad baseball - for years.
Jeff Saukaitis is a former Sports Network writer/editor who has been
a professional sportswriter since 1985.
The Sports Network