11/13/12 11:14 PM ET
Blue Jays close to landing JJ, Reyes in blockbuster
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
Toronto's general manager appears to have orchestrated a 12-player deal with Miami that provides a major boost to the club's chances of reaching the postseason. In one quick strike, the Blue Jays filled their holes in the starting rotation and acquired an elite hitter to place at the top of their lineup.
The blockbuster trade was first reported by Foxsports.com, and the deal will bring shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson, left-hander Mark Buehrle, catcher John Buck and utility player Emilio Bonifacio to the Blue Jays.
Going to the Marlins are at least seven players: shortstop Yunel Escobar, right-hander Henderson Alvarez, Cuban prospect Adeiny Hechavarria, outfield prospect Jake Marisnick, pitching prospects Anthony Desclafani and Justin Nicolino, and veteran backup catcher Jeff Mathis.
The deal has yet to be made official and likely won't be announced until the players involved pass their physicals. Baseball sources confirmed to MLB.com that Johnson and Marisnick were in fact part of the deal, while Nicolino confirmed via Twitter that he was being traded to Miami.
If the deal comes to fruition, the Blue Jays will take on upwards of $165 million in salaries. It's by far the highest guaranteed salary trade the Blue Jays have made during their existence in Major League Baseball.
Toronto first expressed interest in Reyes last offseason before he ultimately signed a six-year contract valued at $106 million with the Marlins. At the time, the major stumbling block was the Blue Jays' policy not to go beyond five years in any contract.
That's no longer a problem for Reyes, who has five years remaining at a total of $96 million. He would give the Blue Jays a traditional leadoff hitter for the first time in recent memory and will allow the club to move third baseman Brett Lawrie down in the order.
Reyes is coming off a season in which he hit .287 with 11 homers and 57 RBIs in 160 games. He is just one season removed from winning the National League batting crown with a .337 average and would now play a pivotal role in Toronto's lineup by attempting to get on base for sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
The presence of Johnson and Buehrle in the deal would fill a couple of glaring holes in Toronto's starting rotation. The two proven arms would join Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero in the starting five, while J.A. Happ would be the early favorite to win the final spot.
Johnson has just one year and $13.75 million remaining on his contract, and he is set to hit free agency following the 2013 campaign. Last year, Johnson went 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA during a somewhat inconsistent campaign, but he has the type of potential to be a bonafide front-of-the-rotation starter. From 2009-11, Johnson went 29-12 with a remarkable 2.64 ERA in 70 starts.
Buehrle was another part of Miami's busy offseason in 2011. He signed a four-year contract worth $58 million, but now finds himself relocating for the second time in just two years. Last season, Buehrle went 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA in 31 starts.
The 33-year-old has pitched at least 200 innings in each of the past 12 seasons and owns a career 3.82 ERA. He also is a proven commodity in the hitter friendly American League after having spent the first 12 years of his career with the White Sox.
The deal was made by Miami to cut salary, but the Blue Jays still had to provide a decent amount of talent in return. Marisnick (No. 2) and Hechavarria (No. 7) were both ranked among the club's top 20 prospects by MLB.com, while DeSclafani would have been a candidate to crack that list in 2013.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria declined to speak with reporters at the Owners Meetings in Chicago on Wednesday. "We have to get better," Loria said in an interview with CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman. "We can't finish in last place. We finished in last place. That's unacceptable. We have to take a new course."
Alvarez was once considered one of Toronto's best pitching prospects, but he took a noticeable step back in 2012. He went just 9-14 with a 4.85 ERA, and the lack of a consistent third pitch helped offset an otherwise overpowering fastball/changeup combination.
But there's plenty of time for Alvarez to turn his career around. He's still just 22 years old, and his upper-90s velocity should secure his spot in the big leagues for years to come, but there are still questions about whether that role will ultimately be in the rotation or bullpen.
The deal also provides a fresh start to Escobar, who received a lot of criticism last season for writing a homophobic slur on his eye-black patches. He received a three-game suspension as punishment, which only added to the disappointment of a frustrating season that saw him hit just .253 in 145 games.
Despite the subpar campaign, Escobar does have the ability to be a well-above-average shortstop. He is only one year removed from a season in which he hit .290 and has proven himself to be more than capable in the field.
Mathis' inclusion in the deal had as much to do with Toronto's catching depth than anything else. The Blue Jays already have J.P. Arencibia entrenched as the club's starting catcher, while top prospect Travis d'Arnaud is waiting in the wings at Triple-A.
Buck could help the Blue Jays remain even more patient with d'Arnaud while backing up Arencibia, but there's an even stronger likelihood that Anthopoulos isn't done dealing and will eventually move another catcher.
For the past couple of years, the Blue Jays' front office talked at great length about the upside of Toronto's baseball market. President Paul Beeston envisioned one day of having a payroll around $150 million, but it always came with the caveat that attendance would have to increase first.
That finally happened in 2012, as Toronto increased its ticket sales by more than 3,000 per game. The Blue Jays ranked third in attendance with 2,099,663, which was their highest total since 2008.
At the end of the season, Anthopoulos vowed that payroll was in fact on its way up, but nobody could have envisioned at the time this type of spending spree. By opening their wallet, the Blue Jays potentially have filled almost all of the major holes on their team in just one trade.
It remains to be seen whether the risky move will ultimately pay off, but for the first time in recent memory, the club can optimistically hope for a spot in next year's postseason -- something that hasn't happened in Toronto since 1993.