As the shock waves from the blockbuster trade between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays rippled throughout Major League Baseball on Tuesday evening, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has once again reclaimed his customary position as public enemy number one in South Florida. After years of acrimony and uncertainty, baseball fans in Miami were finally given an opportunity to believe in Loria and the future of the Marlins last fall. A newly constructed state of the art ball park with a wide array of delicacies and luxurious amenities emphatically punctuated the arrival of the renamed Miami Marlins on the grounds of where the historic Orange Bowl once stood. To accompany the architecturally stunning 37,000 seat ball park, last December’s ostentatious spending on three free agents to the tune of $191 million re-energized a fan base that was enamored with the franchise’s colorful new uniforms and a logo that uniquely captured the vibrancy of the city.
To no one’s surprise, the Miami Marlins have once again imploded right before our eyes. The images of an ebullient Loria proudly prancing through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole at last year’s Winter Meetings have all but faded into oblivion. Instead of the predicted fire sale occurring in Orlando at next year’s Winter Meetings as expected by many, the Marlins are now a franchise paying $7 million for a man not to manage their ball club and another $8 million to a former pitcher who is now employed by the Arizona Diamondbacks. At some point, you have to feel genuine sympathy for the fans and taxpayers in South Florida who saw close to $400 million in public funds used to build a ball park for a franchise that has unabashedly proclaimed poverty since its inception in 1993.
As Loria and the Miami Marlins will be on the receiving end of an overabundance of harsh criticism in the days ahead, we cannot forget the significance of the trade for the Toronto Blue Jays. While the Blue Jays are adding at least $159.75 million in contracts (excluding incentive bonuses, Jose Reyes’ 2018 club option at $22 million or $4 million buyout and Emilio Bonifacio’s arbitration-eligible 2013 contract), they have emphatically catapulted themselves into contention in the American League East. Two factors that undoubtedly precipitated this aggressive acquisition by Blue Jays Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Alex Anthopoulos were the surprising success of the Baltimore Orioles this season and the effect of the additional wild card on the playoff races.
Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes are the three brand names in the trade, but each has varying levels of interest to the Blue Jays. Buehrle is owed $48 million over the next three years, but the proven winner provides the Blue Jays with consistency and durability. He is synonymous with achieving 13 victories, 200 innings pitched and 30 starts per season. The four-time Gold Glove winner also adds a veteran presence to the pitching staff and clubhouse. In case of Johnson, the phrase, “enormous potential,” instantaneously comes to mind. However, Johnson has spent substantial time on the disabled list with shoulder issues and recovery from the infamous Tommy John surgery. Johnson is in the final year of a four year, $39 million contract and is due $13.75 million for the 2013 season. A healthy Johnson could pay off huge dividends for the Blue Jays. However, he has only eclipsed 30 or more starts in a season twice and is coming off a 2012 season in which he had accumulated a .364 winning percentage.
Arguably, the most dynamic and intriguing player in the deal is Jose Reyes. The speedy shortstop is owed at least $96 million through 2018. Reyes’ exciting brand of baseball immediately makes him a fan favorite, but there are legitimate concerns about his durability. With Reyes’s history of hamstring injuries, 81 games a year on an artificial playing surface could prove to be a formidable task.
In a division once solely dominated by the Yankees and Red Sox, the Blue Jays have made a bold and expensive attempt at qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1993. However, their most important acquisition of the off season has yet to occur. In the wake of John Farrell’s departure for the Red Sox, the Blue Jays must hire a proven and seasoned manager who can match wits and strategy with the likes of Joe Maddon, Buck Showalter and Joe Girardi on a nightly basis. Veteran managers such as Art Howe, Jim Tracy and Manny Acta have already surfaced as possible candidates in multiple reports, but the Blue Jays shouldn’t rush to hire anyone just yet. The franchise has been notorious in recent years for hiring first-time managers at the major league level (Carlos Tosca, John Gibbons, Tim Johnson, Buck Martinez and John Farrell) and the results have been disappointing.
As the Blue Jays aggressively assemble a roster that appropriately represents the elite caliber of talent in the American League East, they cannot forget the value and importance of a seasoned manager. With baseball franchises placing a heavy emphasis on sabermetrics and quantitative analyses, the Blue Jays need to find a measurement technique that can effectively evaluate managerial candidates in terms of WAR (Wins Above Replacement). The Blue Jays must fight the urge of hiring a manager with limited experience and look for someone that can consistently navigate the ball club to the postseason. Managing in the American League East is vastly different than any other division within baseball, especially if you have a ball club with high expectations and an even higher payroll.