I considered a long and winding opus, an essay that considers the mega deal between Alex Anthopoulos’s Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins existentially and socially, as well as in on-field terms. It fizzled in the outline stage. I might write that story someday soon, but for now, here are 33 thoughts on the deal, some statistical, some theoretical; some perhaps obvious, others less so.
1. Jose Reyes played 160 games in 2012, making it the first Reyes season unmarred by injury since 2008. His health profile remains shaky, and he now moves to the artificial turf at Rogers Centre for his home games, but Reyes will more or less earn his contract going forward, as long as he stays on the field.
2. Reyes commands the strike zone much better than most people credit him for. He doesn’t walk much for a lead-off hitter, but nor does he strike out. In 2012, in a league-leading 716 plate appearances, Reyes drew 63 walks and whiffed only 56 times.
3. Reyes’ batting average on balls in play slipped below .300 for the first time since 2005 last year. He’s a speed-oriented player, and BABIP is a critical part of how he succeeds or fails, so that’s obviously a red flag. Reyes hit just .216 on ground balls in 2012, down from .321 in 2011 and well below his .267 career mark. It doesn’t really seem to be a speed problem, though, and if nothing else, Reyes should gain a few hits from the infield at Rogers Centre (seven percent friendlier to ground-ball hits than New Marlins Park) in 2013.
4. I mentioned that speed doesn’t seem to be Reyes’ problem. It’s true. He bunted 22 times in 2012, and collected eight hits that way. He also stole 40 bases in 51 attempts. Speed doesn’t age terribly well, but Reyes is still a very valuable player. He does many things well.
5. Advanced fielding metrics were very unkind to Reyes last season, rating him between three and 15 runs below average at shortstop. Interestingly, though, Baseball Info Solutions data shows that Reyes has one glaring weakness in an otherwise stout profile. Over the last two seasons, Reyes has been 17 plays better than average on balls either to his left and to straightaway shortstop. However, he has been a whopping 40 plays below average on balls to the right of a typical shortstop’s position. Scouting reports of Reyes’ arm have always been generous, so if one had to guess what was killing his numbers on balls to his right, the smartest guess would be a positioning or anticipation problem. Perhaps the Jays think they can correct that. It’s a rather risky endeavor on artificial turf, but they might be onto something.
6. Reyes also had 60 extra-base hits in 2012, the fourth time he reached that level, and the seventh time he has eclipsed 50 long hits. He has underrated power, and remains a player with diverse skills, even as he moves into his late peak and early decline.
7. Reyes’ contract promises him $92 million over the next five years, then a buyout or club option in 2018. That deal was somewhat more than most people expected Reyes would get last winter. Obviously, the Marlins were already the highest bidder for Reyes, and the back-loaded nature of the deal should make it less appealing. On the other hand, the Blue Jays (like the other 29 teams in baseball) will get an extra $26 million per year from the new national TV deal beginning in 2014. Not only will that soften the blow of Reyes’ escalating salary, but it may lead to such an upsurge in league-wide salaries that teams will be happy to have ANY player under a long-term obligation the terms of which were hammered out before the Boom. In the last part of the last decade, a number of NBA players opted out of their contracts so as to become free agents and sign a deal under extremely favorable market conditions, before a new CBA could derail the gravy train. It’s altogether possible that the inverse is now happening, and clubs now view any long-term deal for an above-average player as preferable to the specter of having to fill a given hole via free agency once salaries shoot up next. Of course, it may just be that the Blue Jays have a tough time coaxing top-tier free agents into coming to Canada, and viewed taking on the salaries of Reyes and Buehrle as the cost of doing business.
8. The Marlins get two shortstops in this deal. Kind of. Adeiny Hechavarria has a sterling defensive reputation, but might not have the bat to be a big-league regular even given that prowess. He has a little upside, but not much at this point. If he starts on a good team, he’s their worst position player.
9. Yunel Escobar is a fading star. He used to pair great defense at shortstop with good on-base skills and gap power, but now, he’s more contract than man. Escobar still defends well, but his walk rate plunged in 2012, and he became an inefficient hitter. He makes $5 million in 2013, then the Marlins will have $5-million options on him for the following two years. To earn that money, Escobar need not bounce back at all. That’s good, too, because his string of non-baseball incidents, allegedly lacking work ethic and set of inauspicious historical comparables don’t hint at much recovery.
10. Mark Buehrle’s contract falls into the same basket as Reyes’s, either a savings bond the Blue Jays plan to collect profit on in the latter years of the deal or simply the unfortunate baggage attached to a player Anthopoulos refused not to acquire.
11. Buehrle garners constant acclaim for his durability. He has, after all, topped 200 innings in every full season of his career. However, in 2012, he pitched six times on six days’ rest, and made just 31 starts for the second straight season. He faced fewer batters than in any previous full season of his career.
12. A one-year foray into the NL offered Buehrle some help. He struck out 15.1 percent of opposing hitters, his best mark since 2008, and walked only 4.8 percent of them, a Buehrle best since 2005. He will struggle somewhat in the tough AL East, but remember that this is a pitcher who pitched to contact and had success at perhaps the AL’s best hitter’s park for a decade.
13. Were a vote to take place tomorrow, 100 percent of fun-loving baseball fans would support Ozzie Guillen as the new Blue Jays manager. That’s science.
14. Justin Nicolino, a pitching prospect who co-headlines this trade for Miami, pitched a full season with a six-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio and 2.46 ERA. That’s the good news. The bad news is that he did so in the low-A Midwest League, and is years from MLB.
15. Nicolino had to this point moved more or less in lock-step with Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard through the Blue Jays’ farm system. They were mentioned almost always as a set, but of the three, Nicolino tends to bring up the rear in terms of prospect status and projected ceiling. Jim Callis of Baseball America recently said as much on Twitter.
16. To ease the shock of losing two incumbent starters from the parent club’s rotation, the Marlins gained Henderson Alvarez in the deal. Alvarez throws hard, with a fastball that touches 95 miles per hour. He can pound the strike zone, and is an extreme ground-ball pitcher. However, he struggled to miss bats so badly in 2012 that the Blue Jays are essentially stating a preference for one season of Josh Johnson over five of Alvarez. That’s very telling. It may be that a pitcher like Alvarez can better succeed in Miami than in Toronto, outside the crucible of the AL East. He might yet turn into something. For now, though, Alvarez lacks the secondary stuff to be even a mid-rotation starter.
17. With Carlos Zambrano having hit free agency at season’s end, and having dealt away Anibal Sanchez in July, the Marlins now have just one member of their Opening Day rotation left in the organization. Ricky Nolasco is a poor man’s Dan Haren or Scott Baker, a guy who misses bats and walks very few opponents, but still seems to get hit hard. With the market flooded with that type of pitcher this offseason, it’s not the right time to move Nolasco, but Ken Rosenthal reported that may be next on Miami’s agenda.
18. Zambrano’s summer demotion and the Sanchez trade killed the dream, but for a while, the 2012 Marlins looked like they might get all 162 starts from five guys. The 2012 Reds would have done it, in fact, but for a rainout that forced a doubleheader into their schedule. This is yet another way in which Jeffrey Loria’s avarice is like a storm cloud over the Marlins franchise.
19. It will be interesting to see how Miami deploys Hechavarria and Escobar. If they’re side-by-side on the infield, something is wrong, because neither has the offensive skills to carry their glove at any position but shortstop. One might imaginably make a fine defensive center fielder, but neither has experience out there. The wisest move (although by no menas the most likely one) might be to have Hechavarria begin the season in Triple-A, hope for a good start from Escobar, then trade the latter (that contract makes a fine chip) and promote the former.
20. Josh Johnson was, from 2009-11, one of the five or six best pitchers in baseball, inning for inning. Of course, he missed substantial time during that span, but the point stands. In 2012, he was much more healthy, and his 798 battersa faced were the second-highest figure of his professional career. However, he was also much less dominant, better than a league-average starter, but not much better.
21. Although the results were not stellar last year for Johnson, and although his peripherals more or less match up with those results, he retains a skill set that should hold up fine in the AL East. Johnson keeps the ball on the ground, yet has (in just under 3,800 batters faced) consistently been able to limit opponents’ power. Of his 65 walks in 2012, seven were intentional, so his command is somewhat better than the surface-level stats let on.
22. Jake Marisnick is the top prospect in the trade headed to Miami, and might be a top-50 prospect in baseball. However, he’s more of a well-rounded, two-win right fielder type than a player with big star potential. He had an .800 OPS in the Florida State League in about half a season there this year, an impressive showing for a 21-year-old. However, he really struggled after a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Scouts seem concerned about his swing mechanics, which is not the kiss of death, but which sort of hurts a prospect with his profile.
23. With Marisnick now joining Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna as very talented corner outfielders in the Marlins organization, Logan Morrison will never play out there again. He’s a first baseman by body type and inclination, and in 2013, it will be time for he and his bat to either sink or swim at that demanding position. Of course, by then, he could be a member of the Red Sox, or some crazy thing.
24. Speaking of possible next steps and Giancarlo Stanton… the superstar right fielder Tweeted as the news broke Tuesday night: “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple.” Whether or not a player should reasonably expect his team to consider his feelings before making trades is a question for another time. The question for this one is: Will the Marlins now trade Stanton, lest he become a problem for them and simply hurt their trade leverage down the road by publicly refusing to consider a contract extension? Certainly, every other team in baseball would love to add Stanton (92 home runs in under 1,500 big-league plate appearances, perhaps the future home-run king) at some price, and that price might never be higher than it will be this winter, when he has such a large edge over the next-best available slugger—Josh Hamilton or Justin Upton, depending upon whom you ask.
25. Hey, speaking of Justin Upton, this trade sort of opened a can of worms for the rest of the AL East. Toronto made a major splash with this move, perhaps positioning themselves as division favorites in 2013. The Red Sox and Rays, long considered prime candidates to push Arizona for Upton, might now have an added sense of urgency.
26. Emilio Bonifacio is not likely to be an average full-time regular in the AL East. He has great speed and uses it well, but he’s not an especially gifted hitter, and he has no true defensive home. He and Maicer Izturis, though, make perhaps the finest pair of bench players in baseball, if that’s how the team uses them. Maybe that says more about modern roster construction than about the players in question, but it’s true.
27. Bonifacio stole 30 bases, in 33 attempts, despite playing in only 64 games in 2012. Ozzie Guillen removed the reins, and Bonfiacio showed how good hs can be on the bases.
28. One of John Buck and J.P. Arencibia are not long for Toronto. From Brett Wallace to Mikes Aviles and Napoli to Edwins Jackson and Encarnacion, Alex Anthopoulos is baseball’s most aggressive player-flipper. Whereas Napoli and Jackson were Blue Jays for a matter of hours, Arencibia and Buck will both be on Toronto’s roster for at least a few weeks. Anthopoulos will want to see where Napoli and Russell Martin, the top free-agent catchers, sign before making his move. Travis D’Arnaud will not be ready to assume the starting catcher gig on Opening Day, but should get there sometime in 2013.
29. Part of Anthopoulos’s strategy the past few seasons has been to load up on quality relief arms. He traded Napoli for Frank Francisco, Aviles for Esmil Rogers, Travis Snider for Brad Lincoln, Eric Thames for Steve Delabar and prospect Nestor Molina for Sergio Santos. It’s not a paradigm statheads love, but it may be the wave of the future for MLB in general. Bill James wrote an essay on his website (sorry, folks, subscribe to read) recently in which he admits to having long underestimated the degree to which the superior per-batter performance of relievers over that of starters is intrinsically tied to the different demands of starting and relieving. Recently, too, big-league teams have found success by building deep bullpens: the 2012 World Series champion San Francisco Giants; the Cincinnati Reds, who came closest to knocking them out in October; the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, who collided in the World Series; and the 2010 Giants and Rangers, to name only a few. It may take a guy for each bullpen doing what Tim Lincecum did last month in order to make it work, but teams seem to be moving toward a model that emphasizes getting outs without giving up runs, without much regard for the traditional objective of milking one’s rotation for as many innings as possble. That said, no amount of relief could have tided Toronto over when their starting-pitching famine hit last summer, so Anthopoulos has now added some quality pieces to help his team get to its strong pen.
30. Jeff Mathis is locked in for the next two years, albeit at a mere $3 million total obligation, but the Marlins also have a club option for 2015. This kind of contract can make even a guy whose 71 OPS+ made 2012 a career year at the plate look good, and indeed, Mathis continues to wow both defensive metrics and observers with his defense behind the chest protector. He won’t get any help sustaining his 2012 power surge from New Marlins Park, but he should be a steady presence in a chaotic rebuild and a player whose talents Mike Redmond can appreciate. This is the underrated part of the deal for Miami, and one of the reasons it’s a pretty fair trade.
31. Anthony DeSclafani joins the Marlins’ system, too. He has a 3.37 ERA in the Midwest League in 2012, tagging along as a surprising strong fourth to Nicolino, Syndergaard and Sanchez. On the other hand, DeSclafani was 22 all year. He’s probably only a true prospect if he transitions to a relief role, and that’s not something you want to be saying about a 23-year-old who will start the year in A-ball. DeSclafani is the typical seventh guy in a deal.
32. Speaking of seventh guys in deals, three cheers for the mega-deal! It is once again alive and well. In fact, not only have we seen two massive deals involving big money swaps and tons of talent in the last three months, but GMs seem to be more aggressive than they have been since the mid-1990s lately. On top of the blockbusters, consider the trades of Anthony Rizzo for Andrew Cashner and Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda last winter. Consider the 10-player trade between the Astros and Blue Jays in July. It’s fun to see front offices so willing to scramble their rosters and think very differently from other front offices. Conformity in player evaluation, to the extent that sabermetrics ever threatened to engender it, is dead.
33. Just as a quick glance, let’s look at the last few mega-deals in baseball. Before this one, of course, came Boston’s unloading of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto on the Dodgers, in return for a quintet of young players, two of them legitimate prospects. Prior to that, you had the aforementioned 10-player swap that sent J.A. Happ and company to Toronto in July, and prior that, the eight-player deal sending Edwin Jackson, Corey Patterson, Mark Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel to the Cardinals for Colby Rasmus, et al, in July of 2011. At that point, the Blue Jays fade as a theme, but Edwin Jackson ties into the nearest one, a three-way deal in 2009 that included Jackson, Max Scherzer, Ian Kennedy, Curtis Granderson and Austin Jackson, and more. Rather than chronicle the entire history of the mega-deal (I’ll do that sometime this witner, in its own post), let’s check out an instructive example. In December 1994, the San Diego Padres and Houston Astros swapped 12 players. Included in the deal were Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Derek Bell and Doug Brocail. At the time, it was a celebrated move by the Padres, and the league laughed at the Astros for their penny-pinching desperation. Sure enough, Caminiti and Finley continued to blossom in San Diego, and the Padres thrived for a few years. To the surprise of the punditry, though, the Astros also took off, spending the money they had sent away wisely and dominating the latter half of the 1990s in the NL Central. The moral of the story, then, is not to judge the winner and loser of a deal like this too quickly. Like it or not, money is part of this game, and although the Blue Jays won the talent swap here, Miami now has all kinds of flexibility. Set aside, for the moment, your level of trust that the ownership group and/or front office will use that flexibility wisely. For now, the fact is that they have a chance to reshape their team in a much more sensible, holistic way than they did a year ago.
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