Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos wasn't kidding when he said he had more money to spend this off-season.
With apologies to former GM Pat Gillick, who swapped Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar on Dec. 5, 1990, the 12-player blockbuster trade that Anthopoulos reportedly consummated with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night should go down as the biggest trade in franchise history.
Not only does the deal add approximately $45 million to Toronto's payroll in 2013 -- and more than $165 million in commitments over the longer term -- it transforms the Blue Jays into instant contenders. It also sends a clear message that ownership is willing to open up its wallet to try to win a championship in 2013.
This jaw-dropper of a deal, which is pending physicals and approval from the commissioner's office, will see starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck and utility player Emilio Bonifacio join the Jays. The Marlins will also reportedly send $4 million to the Jays.
In return, Toronto will part with shortstop Yunel Escobar, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, veteran catcher Jeff Mathis, promising Cuban infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, outfield prospect Jake Marisnick and pitching prospects Anthony Desclafani and Justin Nicolino.
After a disastrous 2012 season, Anthopoulos vowed to improve the rotation this off-season, but he probably couldn't have dreamed that he'd have the opportunity to add two starting pitchers as good as Johnson and Buehrle in one deal.
An all-star in 2009 and 2010, Johnson missed most of 2011 with right shoulder inflammation. He rebounded to make 31 starts this season and post a respectable 3.81 earned-run average. Set to make $13.75 million in the last year of his contract in 2013, the 6-foot-7 right-hander, who will turn 29 in March, will assume a spot atop the rotation.
And you won't find a more dependable starter than Buehrle. The 33-year-old southpaw has won at least 10 games and pitched at least 200 innings in 12 consecutive seasons. He inked a four-year, $58-million pact with the Marlins prior to the 2012 campaign, but the deal is backloaded, so he'll make a reasonable $11 million in 2013.
With the departure of Escobar and Hechavarria, Reyes, who signed a six-year, $106-million deal with the Marlins last December, becomes Toronto's everyday shortstop and likely leadoff hitter. The electrifying 29-year-old won a batting title in 2011 and adds speed and spunk to the top of a batting order that showcased too many all-or-nothing hitters in 2012. A four-time all-star, Reyes has registered more than 30 stolen bases and 10 triples seven times in his 10-year career.
Buck, who enjoyed his best big-league season with the Jays in 2010, has struggled since inking a three-year, $18-million deal with the Marlins. The 6-foot-7, 230-pound catcher, who hit just .192 in 2012, is heading into the final year of his contract.
A super utility player, Bonifacio was limited to 64 games due to a knee injury this past season. But the fleet-footed 27-year-old posted a .360 on-base percentage and swiped 40 bases in 152 games in 2011.
The most impressive aspect of this deal for Anthopoulos is that he was able to acquire five solid big leaguers without parting with catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard -- the three prospects many consider to be the best in the organization.
Escobar slid offensively
The homophobic slur written in his eye black during a game on Sept. 15 served to expedite Escobar's departure from Toronto, but the confounding shortstop also experienced a down season offensively. Set to make $5 million in 2013, Escobar is the only player headed to Miami destined to make more than $3 million next season.
Just 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA in 2012, Alvarez took a step back in his development this season. And while he's just 22, it's concerning that a pitcher with a fastball that can reach the mid-to-high 90s could only muster 79 strikeouts in 187.1 innings this season.
Hechavarria, who will turn 24 in April, made his big-league debut to mixed reviews in 2012. In 41 contests, he proved he's ready to man a middle infield position defensively. But his lack of plate discipline is worrisome and it's unlikely that he'll be more than an average offensive contributor.
Mathis, who signed a two-year, $3-million extension in August, is a useful backup catcher and is stronger behind the plate than Buck. But Buck's superior offensive talents should compensate for his defensive shortcomings.
Parting with solid prospects
According to Baseball America, Marisnick and Nicolino are the Jays' second- and fifth-best prospects, respectively. A 6-foot-4, 200-pound centre-fielder, Marisnick might have been the best athlete in the organization. But he hit just .233 in 55 games at double-A New Hampshire in 2012. That said, he's only 21 and most scouts believe he'll still evolve into a solid big leaguer.
One of the vaunted mound trio, along with Sanchez and Syndergaard, that starred for class-A Lansing this season, Nicolino registered 10 wins and a 2.46 ERA in 22 starts. However, most scouts will tell you that the 20-year-old lefty possesses the lowest ceiling of the "Lansing Three" and project him to be a middle-of-the rotation starter.
Desclafani was another standout hurler at Lansing. In his first professional season, the 22-year-old right-hander won 11 games and posted a 3.37 ERA in 21 starts. Some suggest, however, that his future is as a reliever.
Defining trade for Anthopoulos
It's hard to wrap my head around the magnitude of this blockbuster. But this is the deal that will define Anthopoulos' tenure in Toronto. In the short-term, this swap is a decided triumph for the Jays and Anthopoulos deserves credit for positioning himself to take advantage of Miami's latest fire sale.
The deal makes the Jays' rotation significantly stronger and their offence more multi-dimensional. It also makes the club's managerial vacancy much more appealing.
From a business perspective, the trade sends a clear message to the club's playoff-starved fan base that its owners are willing to open up their wallets and are serious about winning a championship in 2013. And after a disastrous 2012, that's a message that their frustrated fans, who flocked to the Rogers Centre in higher numbers this season, desperately needed to hear.
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