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November 14, 2012

Transaction Analysis

The Toronto Blue Jays Acquire Most of the Remaining Miami Marlins

by R.J. Anderson, Derek Carty, Jason Parks and Mark Anderson

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

We'll be updating this article with additional reactions and analysis as the situation develops.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Reportedly will acquire RHP Josh Johnson, SS-S Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buehrle, C-R John Buck, UTL-S Emilio Bonifacio and $4 million from the Marlins for SS-R Yunel Escobar, SS-R Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Henderson Alvarez, C-R Jeff Mathis, LHP Justin Nicolino, and OF-R Jake Marisnick. [11/13]

In a single swoop, Alex Anthopoulos netted two new members of the rotation, a leadoff-hitting shortstop, a utility player, and another catcher without sparing his top hitting or pitching prospect. Toronto now has the look of a serious contender.

Johnson, the headliner of the trade, ends Toronto’s post-Halladay quest to find an ace-caliber starter. He pitches off a low-to-mid-90s fastball and uses a hard slider to end at-bats. Durability is a concern; Johnson has just one 200-plus-inning season under his belt. The 28-year-old Minnesotan also suffered through his worst big-league season last year. His strikeout rate declined and his walk rate increased—albeit in large part due to a career-high seven intentional walks. Johnson is a free agent at season’s end; given the other goodies involved in the package, it’s impossible to discern whether the Jays intend to re-sign him.

Toronto reportedly considered pursuing Reyes last offseason before ultimately ducking out of the bidding. The shortstop is heading north one season into a six-year deal worth $106 million. As exciting of a player as there is in the majors, Reyes uses impressive speed and bat-to-ball skills to provide offensive value. He’s made to hit near the top of the order and should become Toronto’s everyday leadoff hitter. Reyes has five years and $96 million remaining on his contract. A club option for the 2018 season, worth $22 million, could push the total amount remaining to $114 million if exercised.

Buehrle is the archetypal soft-tossing southpaw who survives with guts and guile. He gets by with mediocre strikeout rates by avoiding free passes and displaying a knack for generating double-play balls. The four-time Gold Glove winner has seen his ERA continuously outperform his peripherals as a result. How Buehrle’s approach will translate to the American League East is a question worth asking. Toronto will have the next three years (at the cost of $48 million) to learn the answer.

After a strong 2011 campaign, Bonifacio appeared ready to take a step forward. Instead he went backward and missed most of the season due to injury. When Bonifacio did play, he performed like his old self. His defensive flexibility is useful, as he can play all over—including second base and center field, where he spent his time last season. At the plate, Bonifacio walks a fair bit, but he also has more swing-and-miss in his game than you’d anticipate from a player his size with his power production. He’s an excellent basestealer, and he should provide a spark off the bench if used well.

Buck is included to serve as salary ballast. The Jays are sending Mathis to the Marlins and have Travis d’Arnaud hanging around the minors. In a sense, Buck is a lot like J.P. Arencibia. He needs to slug to provide positive value. Otherwise, he’s a mundane backstop.—R.J. Anderson

MIAMI MARLINS
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Reportedly will acquire SS-R Yunel Escobar, SS-R Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Henderson Alvarez, C-R Jeff Mathis, LHP Justin Nicolino, and OF-R Jake Marisnick from the Blue Jays for RHP Josh Johnson, SS-S Jose Reyes, LHP Mark Buehrle, C-R John Buck, UTL-S Emilio Bonifacio, and $4 million. [11/13]

Well, you’ll never be able to say that Jeffrey Loria and the Miami Marlins didn’t give it the old college try, for at least half a season. Loria and his entourage were the talk of the town (or the Hilton Anatole Hotel) at last year’s Winter Meetings when they threw their money around like an exquisitely mustachioed, monocle-clad oil tycoon, signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell while also trying to lure Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, and Prince Fielder.

They say money doesn’t buy championships, but it certainly helps, and Miami was willing to give it a shot, opening 2012 with a payroll 76 percent greater than the one with which they opened 2011. However, the team wasn’t able to bring in the biggest gun (Pujols) and didn’t spend its money efficiently ($27 million for a closer on the decline?). Throw in the lack of sufficient supporting pieces to go around their fresh talent and incumbent stars Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, and Johnson, and Miami wound up dropping 93 games and engaging in some very early spring cleaning. Following this deal and their trade with Arizona last month, none of their big signings from last offseason remains. They’ve now cleared $48 million from the 2013 books (plus let close to $10 million more expire) and $175 million total.

Aside from the $11.5 million they owe Ricky Nolasco this year (the Marlins must have totally spaced and forgotten to stick Toronto with him, too) and the $5 million Escobar will cost them, the team’s most expensive non-arbitration player is Greg Dobbs at $1.5 million. With the experiment a failure, at least Miami had the nerve (if you want to call it that) to admit they were wrong, tear it down, and start over (and they even got some decent prospects out of it). Heck, that might have even been the plan all along given the back-loading on their now infamous Winter Meetings deals. —Derek Carty

Escobar is the most experienced big-league player in the Marlins’ return, but he comes with plenty of warts. Concerns about his maturity have prevailed since his days with the Braves, and climaxed with last season’s eye black message controversy. Teams put up with the headaches because Escobar is a solid player. He’s shown ability to hit for solid averages while posting decent-to-good on-base percentages. Defensively, Escobar has overcome questions revolving around his speed and range. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Marlins move Escobar at some point before the end of next season given his track record and team-friendly contract (he has one year, $5 million remaining guaranteed with two club options worth $10 million total). Until then, he figures to man a middle infield spot.

Miami acquired Gorkys Hernandez at the trade deadline and may have acquired his infield doppelganger in Hechavarria. The Cuban product is a plus-plus defender with the arm and actions to stick at shortstop. If Hechavarria’s bat were good enough to merit batting eighth or ninth in the lineup, he would be a surefire starter. As is, his offensive production is so poor that starting him is hard to fathom despite the stellar defense. If the Marlins start him in the big leagues next season, don’t be surprised if he posts the worst walk-to-strikeout ratio on the team, and maybe in the National League.

Alvarez is the baby of the big-league bunch at 22 1/2 years old. An inability to miss bats despite a mid-90s fastball has plagued him over his 41 big-league starts, and the results rarely matched the stuff in the minors. To Alvarez’s credit, he has generated a good groundball rate. Escaping the AL East should help his numbers. The Marlins probably have a tweak or two in mind as well. If their tinkering works, Alvarez may develop into a middle-of-the-rotation starter, but even back-of-the-rotation status would be an improvement.—R.J. Anderson

Justin Nicolino, the second-round pick in the 2010 draft, brings a combination of projection and polish from the left side. At present, the soon-to-be 21-year-old southpaw will work his fastball in the upper-80s to low-90s, showing good arm-side movement on the pitch. His best offering is a beautiful changeup that wears the fastball disguise until it’s too late for hitters to adjust, resulting in weak contact and missed bats to both lefties and righties. His curveball is his third offering, but has good shape and depth and projects to be another above-average pitch at maturity. The entire arsenal plays up because of his pitchability and overall feel for sequence and game situation, so even if the fastball doesn’t see a velocity spike during the developmental process, Nicolino can still profile as a middle-of-the-rotation starter. If the arsenal ticks up without sacrificing his feel for command, the sky is the limit. After a very strong Low-A campaign in 2012, Nicolino has the type of poise and polish to reach the Double-A level at some point in the 2013 season.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Jays gave slick-fielding Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria a $4M signing bonus and guaranteed $10M in a four-year major-league contract, but the bat didn’t develop as planned and Hechavarria spent the better part of his three seasons in the minors. His worth is tied to his flash at a premium position, and that flash is substantial. Hechavarria has very slick actions at the position, with some scouts putting a 7 on his glove to match the 7 already on his arm and his legs. The bat would be the topping on his defensive dessert, but it’s been slow to find its form, raking in the offense-friendly environment of the Jays’ Triple-A affiliate but falling short in his 41-game major-league sample. The hands work well, but the pitch recognition skills and the approach put him in a hole, and without much juice, the stick is pretty empty. With some contact ability and speed, he might be able to produce enough to keep his glove on the field. But the approach will need refinement if he is to have a chance as a major-league regular. He has his backers who insist the bat has enough room to develop into something that plays. Others aren’t so optimistic.—Jason Parks

Jake Marisnick has an up-the-middle profile with potential plus defense in center field. He’s a lean athlete who glides to the ball with long, majestic strides. He can cover a ton of ground to both sides and has the plus arm strength necessary to make throws from the deepest parts of the park. For all his defensive abilities, Marisnick remains raw at the plate. He lacks pitch recognition skills, will swing wildly at breaking balls out of the strike zone, and is consistently out front on even mediocre change-ups.

Marisnick hits better with two strikes, choking up on the bat, employing a shorter stroke, and using the whole field. He has the leveraged swing and natural strength to earn plus grades for his raw power, but that power has yet to manifest in games. Optimistic views envision a five-tool center fielder who contributes at an above-average level in all phases of the game. The pessimist’s view can see the hitting ability unraveling the whole package, leaving him short of such a lofty projection. Regardless of the frame of reference, he will need all of 2013 in the minor leagues to refine his offensive game, but he could make an impact in the big leagues in 2014.—Mark Anderson


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mark's other articles. You can contact Mark by clicking here

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