Did the Toronto Blue Jays Just Win the American League East?
And in one fell swoop the Toronto Blue Jays have, at the very least, completely changed the outlook of the American League East, if not the American League, for the 2013 season.
In a blockbuster deal, some have even called it epic, the Toronto Blue Jays have suddenly vaulted themselves to the top of the food chain within the A.L. East and sacrificed a great deal of their future to do so. Clearly they thought the time to win was now and you can’t fault them for that – unless of course you are the general manager of a rival team and are now thinking to yourself: “Holy hell, now I have to do something to counter that!”
The Blue Jays picked up a top of the rotation starter in Josh Johnson, a durable veteran in Mark Buehrle, and one of the most exciting shortstops to watch play in baseball – Jose Reyes. The Miami Marlins also threw in back-up catcher John Buck and utility man Emilio Bonifacio, who can steal bases and has played every position except first base and catcher.
In exchange for those players the Blue Jays sent controversial shortstop Yunel Escobar, starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez, backup catcher Jeff Mathis, and then left-handed pitching prospects Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino, shortstop prospect Adeiny Hechavarria, and outfield prospect Jake Marisnick.
At first glance it appears that Toronto more than got the better end of this deal, especially considering they didn’t even have to give up their number one prospect in catcher Travis d’Arnaud or their top pitching prospect in Aaron Sanchez. But when you start to break this trade down you may begin to rethink your position on it, not that there’s anything terribly wrong with it – at first glance.
The Marlins got back quite a haul for their prize starting pitcher, in Josh Johnson, who happens to be a free agent following next season and then for a pair of players who will prove to be greatly overpaid within the next two seasons. They managed to get a solid, yet immature, shortstop in Yunel Escobar, a promising young starter in Henderson Alvarez, who should be no worse than a back-end of the rotation starter even though I see him becoming closer to a solid number three or decent number two, and a handful of top prospects that could be in the majors within three years.
Toronto, while they landed some big fish (HA!), may soon find themselves saddled with some burdensome contracts and that they’ve acquired a starting pitcher (Josh Johnson) who is more likely to test the free agent market rather than sign an extension with them – IF he can stay healthy for a full season.
Taking on a little more than $40 million dollars in payroll obligations for the 2013 season may not seem like much, but with that kind of money a team could theoretically sign Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke or another combination of top free agents this offseason. What really has the potential to come back and bite the Blue Jays in the ass is the fact that Mark Buehrle is owed $48 million dollars through 2015, his age 36 season, and Jose Reyes is owed $92 million dollars through 2017, his age 34 season, and there’s still the $22 million dollar team option for 2018 (not likely to get exercised).
I understand that Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoluos was under a considerable amount of pressure heading into this off-season, but this blockbuster trade has plenty of potential to backfire and cost him his job anyway. Who knows how Johnson and Buehrle will perform in the American League, let alone the American League East, but the two biggest players they received (Johnson and Reyes) have significant injury histories and it would be a significant blow to their season if either were lost for any length of time.
All-in-all, this trade – if it works out the way the Blue Jays hope it will – should provide the team with a window to seriously compete in the American League for at least two seasons, possibly three if all goes right. The real concern will come beyond the 2014 season when they would have begun to call up players from their minor league system to provide depth on the bench or assume starting roles over players lost to free agency or injury.
That near certain depth is now gone, even though their farm system is still decent enough at the top, and any injuries to players on their major league roster or any setback in regards to the development of the highly rated prospects remaining in their farm system could be the death knell of this organization by 2015.