It took longer than Blue Jays fans probably would have liked, but Toronto’s mammoth 12-player trade with the Miami Marlins is finally a done deal.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said Monday he would not stand in the way of the trade that sees Toronto acquire all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck and infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio from Miami for seven players.
“It is my conclusion that this transaction, involving established major leaguers and highly regarded young players and prospects, represents the exercise of plausible baseball judgment on the part of both clubs, does not violate any express rule of Major League Baseball and does not otherwise warrant the exercise of any of my powers to prevent its completion,” Selig said it a statement. “It is, of course, up to the clubs involved to make the case to their respective fans that this transaction makes sense and enhances the competitive position of each, now or in the future.”
Miami gets infielders Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria, pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Nicolino, catcher Jeff Mathis and outfielder Jake Marisnick in the deal agreed to last week. The Marlins also are sending cash to Toronto as part of their payroll purge.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said after Toronto’s disappointing campaign in 2012 — one that the club go 73-89 and finish fourth in the American League East — that he wanted to improve the team’s starting pitching.
He did so in dramatic fashion, pulling off one of the biggest deals in franchise history that changes the look of the team and immediately puts the Blue Jays in the conversation for the American League East crown.
But with the deal will come increased expectations.
Toronto, which has not made the playoffs since the second of back-to-back World Series victories in 1993, acquired combined guaranteed salaries of US$163.75 million through 2018 in the deal, including $96 million due Reyes.
Anthopoulos was expected to address the media at Rogers Centre on Tuesday morning.
Johnson and Buehrle will immediately improve a starting rotation that already includes Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero. Reyes, who should bat leadoff, is a major upgrade over Escobar at shortstop, Bonifacio could fill a hole at second base and Buck, a former Blue Jay, gives the team veteran experience behind the plate.
Despite the huge monetary investment, Toronto didn’t have to give up much off the current roster.
Escobar’s days with the Blue Jays were already numbered after he wrote an anti-gay slur in Spanish on his eyeblack late in the season. Mathis was a decent backup, while the jury is still out on Alvarez and prospects Hechavarria, DeSclafani, Nicolino and Marisnick.
The trade is not the only move Anthopolous made last week. The Blue Jays reportedly signed all-star game MVP Melky Cabrera, who is returning from a drug suspension. Sources say Cabrera and the club have reached an agreement on a two-year contract worth $16 million, pending a physical.
Anthopolous still has more work to do, including the hiring of a new manager after John Farrell jumped ship to the Boston Red Sox in October.
Despite the major jump in payroll, the trade with the Marlins doesn’t come without risk. Reyes, a career .291 hitter with 259 doubles, 111 triples, 92 home runs and 480 RBIs in 1,210 games, is an injury concern, especially on the turf at Rogers Centre.
The 29-year-old switch-hitter batted .287 for the Marlins last season with 37 doubles, 12 triples, 11 home runs, 57 RBIs and 40 stolen bases last season, a year removed from winning the National League batting title.
Johnson, a free agent after 2013, is owed $13.75 million next season, while Buehrle has $52 million remaining on a deal that expires in 2015.
The 28-year-old Johnson was 8-14 last season with a 3.81 earned-run average in 31 starts for Miami. The two-time all-star recorded 165 strikeouts with 65 walks in 191 1/3 innings. A six-foot-seven right-hander, Johnson led the National League with a 2.30 ERA in 2010.
Buehrle was 13-13 in 2012 with a 3.74 ERA in his first season with the Marlins. The 33-year-old left-hander tossed 202 1-3 innings in 31 starts, marking the 12th consecutive season he pitched at least 200 innings. The four-time all-star spent the first 12 years of his career with the Chicago White Sox before joining Miami last season.
Buck appeared in 106 games for the Marlins in 2012, batting .192 with 12 home runs and 41 RBIs. The 33-year-old veteran catcher returns to Toronto, where he was an American League all-star in 2010.
Bonifacio, 27, batted .258 last season in 64 games, with 30 stolen bases and 30 runs scored. He can play all three outfield positions, as well as second base, third base and shortstop.
The 28-year-old Cabrera was leading the National League in hitting at .346 for the San Francisco Giants when he was suspended Aug. 15 for a positive testosterone text. The Giants didn’t put Cabrera on their post-season roster on their way to winning the World Series.
The net amount coming off the Marlins’ books in the deal is $154 million, which does not account for the cash involved in the trade.
Since flopping during the first half of their first season at their new ballpark, the Marlins also have traded former NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Omar Infante, right-hander Anibal Sanchez and closer Heath Bell.
The Marlins have been criticized for jettisoning veterans after moving into a ballpark largely funded by public money.
“I am sensitive to the concerns of the fans of Miami regarding this trade, and I understand the reactions I have heard,” Selig added in the statement. “Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and I fully understand that the Miami community has done its part to put the Marlins into a position to succeed with beautiful new Marlins Park.
“Going forward, I will continue to monitor this situation with the expectation that the Marlins will take into account the sentiments of their fans, who deserve the best efforts and considered judgment of their club. I have received assurances from the ownership of the Marlins that they share these beliefs and are fully committed to build a long-term winning team that their fans can be proud of.”
Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said he understood why fans in Miami were mad and confirmed the trade was necessary because owner Jeffrey Loria wanted to pare payroll.
“I understand the pause the fans have with the instability in our roster at a time when we were hoping to be very stable in the new stadium,” Beinfest said. “It’s not a lot of fun.”
Miami’s biggest remaining star, slugger Giancarlo Stanton, has been among those expressing anger about the trade. Beinfest said he hadn’t talked with Stanton about the deal.
“I know this is an emotional time,” Beinfest said. “I’m sure it has been tough for him. Our feeling was to maybe let the dust settle a little bit and then talk to Giancarlo. I hear the frustration. It’s not unexpected. This has been a tough go, but we think it’s best for us moving forward.”
Players’ union head Michael Weiner withheld comment, saying he was awaiting more input from Major League Baseball.
In January 2009, the union reached an agreement with MLB and the Marlins covering 2010-12 which Weiner said was a “response to our concerns that revenue sharing proceeds have not been used as required.” As part of the deal, Weiner said the team planned to “use such proceeds to increase player payroll annually as they move toward the opening of their new ballpark.”
Note: To make room on the 40-man roster following the trade, Toronto designated right-handed pitcher Joel Carreno for assignment.