Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Instant Trade Analysis: The Miami Marlins Trade Everyone to the Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays get: SS Jose Reyes, 3B/OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck, SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buerhle

Miami Marlins get: SP Henderson Alvarez, C Jeff Mathis, SS Yunel Escobar, Shame and prospects SP Justin Nicolino, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, OF Jake Marisnick,

Less than twelve months removed from a massive winter shopping spree that preceded the team's long-awaited move into a brand-new stadium in downtown Miami, the Marlins have completed a fire sale that many thought they'd started this summer by trading Hanley Ramirez, Edward Mujica, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. The Fish have removed almost every vestige of considerable major league experience or salary demands from their roster, leaving only SP Ricky Nolasco, OF Giancarlo Stanton and new imports Mathis and Escobar as the only players on the roster with three or more seasons of service time. Stanton has already voiced his disapproval, and there are rumors he'll be the next star to go, though I find it hard to believe that Miami would trade him with four years left on his rookie deal.

In a nutshell, the Marlins have completed their once a decade post-championship fire sale, except this time they haven't won anything besides the award for "the franchise least deserving of success in major North American sports". For the purposes of this post, I'll leave out the repercussions this will have the possibility of there ever being success for Major League Baseball in South Beach, as well as the unscrupulous manner in which the Marlins seemed to have conned the city of Miami into paying for a brand new ballpark for what amounts to an expansion team. Let's just focus on what happens to these two teams. 

For Miami, it's fair in some ways to say this was just about dropping salary, but in others...this was a baseball trade. If all the prospects that go to the Marlins that were supposed to, the Fish are getting three of Toronto's top 10 prospects, as well as a major league-ready pitcher in Henderson Alvarez. The Marlins next year are going to look like an expansion team, but then again, they lost 93 games this year and ranked 29th in runs scored, 21st in team ERA and 17th in errors. On every conceivable level, this team was subpar and that's even before the comparison to their payroll, which was the 7th highest in baseball. Miami had a roster full of post-rookie contract vets in or past their primes who weren't going to get better. 

As MAMBINO examined this past summer after the Hanley Ramirez trade, perhaps the expectations put upon the Marlins during the preseason weren't particularly fair--maybe this team wasn't that good in the first place. In the three to four seasons preceding their big move into downtown Miami, the Fish stuck around as a speculative playoff dark horse, with youngsters like Josh Johnson, Ramirez, Nolasco, Sanchez, Dan Uggla and Andrew Miller on the roster. Yet, year after year, the Marlins failed to win more than 87 games or finish any better than 2nd place. Predictions remained stagnant for a "sleeping giant" Florida team, as they waited to add big money pieces to an "almost there" stadium situation in which they'd finally be able to supplement a rich system of homegrown players with free agents

The truth is, maybe we all got caught up in the interim. This team's window to pay for free agents like Reyes, Buerhle and Heath Bell to supplement the home grown product wasn't 2011--it was 2007, 2008 and 2009. Our expectations of this team weren't fair for 2012. This rebuilding movement we're all surveying tonight should have started two years ago, rather than piling on more luxury pieces to a rotten foundation. This team probably wasn't worth our expectations.

Thus, the Marlins' front office looked at their situation and realized like many under-producing teams, why should they pay so much money just to stink? Jose Reyes is 29, but could be a season or two away from falling off a steep Carl Crawford-shaped cliff. Josh Johnson is the latest and greatest pitcher that never was, or perhaps will be after a career full of DL stints and disappointment. Buerhle and Buck are fine players and almost worth their salaries, but their strengths best help a team in the playoff hunt when pressure is most great; not for playing in meaningless July games when a 24 year-old could give the same performance because he's not playing to any expectations. Emilio Bonifacio had a fantastic 2011, but could be nothing more than his 2012 self; an alleged 27 year-old who doesn't hit enough to use this Flash-like speed. All in all, the Marlins are losing one star who could quickly be on the decline, another potential star who can't stay on the field and three useful pieces. There was only one game-changing player in South Beach last season, and as I said, Giancarlo Stanton isn't going anywhere. The Marlins were already one of the worst teams in the league last year--they'll be even worse this year, but hopefully these young players will play harder for new manager Mike Redmond than the veterans did for Ozzie Guillen in 2012. I don't see how they could care less and look just as disgraceful.

On the Blue Jays side, this is the first step of a presumed offseason charge to even the playing field with the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles. According to mlbdepthcharts.com, the Jays 2013 lineup as of now looks something like this:

1 SS Jose Reyes
2  2B Emilio Bonifacio
RF Jose Bautista 
4  1B Edwin Encarnacion 
CF Colby Rasmus 
6  3B Brett Lawrie
7  DH Adam Lind
C J.P. Arencibia
9  LF Anthony Gose

Last year, the Jays scored the 13th most runs in Major League Baseball, and that was with a half-season from all-world masher Bautista. With a good record of health and slight improvement from Rasmus and Lawrie, this is one of the five best lineups in baseball. Offensively, there were a few questions from the Jays going into 2013. Now you'd have to nitpick. 

That all being said, the Jays didn't have to improve that much more offensively--the San Francisco Giants just won two World Series titles with much better lineups and midseason acquisitions. What Toronto really needed was pitching, and I'm not so sure they got that. Here's what their starting rotation looks like:

1 RHP Josh Johnson
2  LHP Mark Buehrle 
RHP Brandon Morrow  
4  LHP Ricky Romero
LHP J.A. Happ

The Jays rotation is the epitome of high risk, high reward. Both Morrow and Johnson are built out of the same glass cloth: extremely talented, high strikeout, ace-quality pitchers who just can't stay healthy. Both haven't thrown more than an average of 150 innings as starters, with Johnson being on the low end at 129. Looking at their current or recent injury situations isn't really worth it; yes, Johnson started 31 games last year and Morrow has averaged 26 starts since his arrival in Toronto three years ago, but neither guy is a reliable option with their throwing style and injury history. It's a huge gamble to compound one very talented but often absent starter with another one exactly like him, but if GM Alex Antholopolous wins this hand, he's going to look like he belongs on the World Poker Tour.

To make this trade an absolute no-brainer victory, Toronto needs to supplement their haul with some free agent talent. Looking at the rest of their rotation, Ricky Romero took a turn for the worst last year, throwing to a 5.77 ERA and a nearly 1 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio (124 to 108--incredibly bad). He seemed to have no control, and when he did manage to get the ball over the plate, every pitch just hung in the air. Like Morrow and Johnson, he's got a ton of potential, so hopefully last year doesn't stay in his head permanently. Buerhle and Happ are what they are at this point, and if the younger starters are able to live up to part of their potential, then the two lefties just have to hold down their low end of the rotation. The Jays would be much better served to go out and spend some money on a player (and proud Canadian) like Ryan Dempster to send Happ to the bullpen. Relief is another area the Jays are deficient in, though relief is notorious tricky to forecast during the preseason. A midseason trade with Toronto's ample farm resources could rememdy a leaky 'pen.

If even one out of the two of Morrow and Johnson can stay healthy and dominate, Ricky Romero can can shave even a run off his ERA and Anthopolous can make some free agent additions, Toronto will finally have made enough moves to put them on par with the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays and the surprising Orioles. They're young, teeming with potential and with the right managerial hire, will be in the hunt for the AL East title. You heard it here first. 

In terms of the Marlins, it's free license to bag on the team for participating in their third full-scale team dumping in fifteen years. But in terms of baseball, this trade makes sense, but not so much in the sense that it should have been done three years ago. I can't even say "for the situation they were in", because the Marlins made this bed and instead of properly building an up and coming team correctly, they held onto pieces too long and were dishonest with the presentation of their product to the city of Miami. The Marlins will be young and they got quite a few great prospects, but this is going to hurt the franchise for years and years to come in terms of South Beach being a free agent destination. It's hard to believe, but signing all those free agents just one year ago was the worst possible thing the Miami front office could have done.

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