MIAMI MARLINS/BLUE JAYS TRADE INSIGHTS

Tim McCullough, Managing Editor November 19, 2012

As of this writing, the blockbuster trade between the Marlins and Blue Jays involving a dozen players remains under review by Commissioner Bud Selig’s office. The players involved also have to pass physicals before the trade becomes official, so the Marlins salary dump and haul of prospects is anything but a slam dunk. The trade appears to have sweeping implications in Florida, so Selig is treading carefully as he considers whether the deal is “in the best interests” of MLB. Also, the dubious health of Josh Johnson’s shoulder and Jose Reyes’ lengthy injury history could easily derail the whole transaction. While it would probably be wise to await the completion of the deal before analyzing the Fantasy implications, the sheer size of the trade and its ramifications for both rosters is just too tantalizing. So let’s throw caution to the wind, assume all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place, and take a look at how this trade affects the Blue Jays and Marlins going forward.

The Blue Jays will acquire SP Josh Johnson, SP Mark Buehrle, SS Jose Reyes, C John Buck and IF/OF Emilio Bonifacio along with a reported $4M in cash.

Josh Johnson (RHP) – After two terrific seasons (’09,’10) in which he compiled a record of 26-11, with a 2.80 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 8.60 K/9, there was little doubt that the Marlins had an ace on their hands. A shoulder injury limited Johnson to just nine starts in 2011. Repeated imaging studies failed to uncover any serious injury, but Johnson did not progress enough to return to the mound at any point in 2011. He made 31 starts in 2012, but showed a significant drop in velocity and strikeout rate. Johnson was very hittable at times and his ERA (3.81) suffered as a result. Now he’ll be pitching in the very tough AL East division, in a ballpark that favors hitters much more than either of the Marlins’ home stadiums over the past five seasons. His questionable shoulder and the change of leagues make him a Fantasy wild card in 2013, one that you may want to avoid until he proves that he can rebound and pitch like the ace he used to be.

Mark Buehrle (LHP) – Buehrle has always been one of those pitchers who is a better baseball player than Fantasy commodity. While he’s maintained a sub 4.00 ERA throughout the vast majority of his 13 year career (12 of them with the White Sox), Buehrle has never been a true strikeout pitcher. In 2012, he struck out 5.56 batters per nine innings, his best rate since 2008, just slightly above his career K rate of 5.11 K/9. He’ll eat innings for the Blue Jays and win enough games to hold up his end of the bargain at the back of their rotation. However, his low K rate makes him no more than a matchup play in any Fantasy format that uses strikeouts as a scoring category. He may have some value in deep AL-only leagues where an innings-eating pitcher is necessary, but that’s about it.

Jose Reyes (SS) – When healthy, Reyes is a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup due to his ability to get on base and disrupt opposing pitchers with his base stealing ability. As such, he’ll be the leadoff hitter the Blue Jays notably lacked this past season. Given the strength of Toronto’s middle of the order, Reyes should easily score 100 runs while swiping 30-40 bases. He could even hit 20 dingers in the HR-friendly environs of the AL East ballparks where he’ll play more than 100 of his games. So Reyes instantly becomes a hot Fantasy commodity again at the rather thin shortstop position. He could easily be drafted among the top 20 in 2013 Fantasy drafts.

John Buck (C) – The acquisition of Buck puts the Blue Jays in the enviable position of being flush at the backstop position with three catchers on the 40-man roster. In addition to Buck, they have last year’s primary starter, bopper J.P. Arencibia, and uber prospect Travis d’Arnaud, who spent last season at Triple-A, though many felt he could have been in Toronto with the big club. Unfortunately, Buck’s numbers have been in decline the past few seasons, with his average plummeting below .200 in 2012 and his power numbers falling as well. Buck is also a bit of a liability behind the plate, as he is not considered a good defensive catcher, despite throwing out a slightly above league average 27 percent of attempted base stealers in 2012. One of the three catchers is likely to be dealt, with Arencibia being the most likely. The Blue Jays will probably want to keep Buck around to mentor d’Arnaud and be his backup, getting perhaps 50 starts in 2013. Buck will have limited value as a part-time player, and only slightly better than that if he happens to be the starter, an unlikely scenario.

Emilio Bonifacio (IF/OF) – Snake bitten is the best way to describe Bonifacio’s 2012 season. A thumb injury that required surgery and a severe knee sprain combined to limit Bonifacio to just 64 games, and the former hampered his hitting to a certain extent, most evident in his batting average, which ended up at .258, well below the .296 mark he posted in 2011. Bonifacio played second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield positions for the Marlins at various times during his four seasons with the team. Toronto is all set at shortstop and third base, and they are flush with outfielders, especially with the recent signing of Melky Cabrera to a two-year deal (more on that later). So in all likelihood, Bonifacio will be the starting second baseman for the Blue Jays, which will shift the team’s other recent signing, Maicer Izturis, back to the utility role he’s filled throughout most of his career. Provided Bonifacio bounces back from his injury plagued 2012, his Fantasy value should also rebound and indeed grow. Given his base stealing ability and decent on-base skills, he will likely hit second in the Blue Jays order in front of Brett Lawrie, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. That puts him in line to score plenty of runs and swipe another 30 or more bases, making him a valuable mixed league Fantasy commodity. His eligibility at third base and OF will only make him more valuable, considering how thin third base is in general.

The Blue Jays are almost certain to move one of their catchers, most likely for pitching. They could use another starter and their bullpen is also incomplete. They have a surplus of outfielders as well, so look for them to send guys like Anthony Gose and Moises Sierraback to the minors. Either that or they could try to move one or two outfielders – once again, for pitching help. Either way they are definitely not done this winter just yet. Fantasy wise, the boppers in the middle of the lineup (Encarnacion, Lawrie, Bautista) will definitely benefit from the addition of Reyes to the top of the order. If the Jays are smart they’ll have Maicer Izturis and perhaps Reyes share their baserunning prowess with guys like Lawrie to avoid some of the blunders the team experienced on the basepaths in 2012. There is little doubt the Blue Jays are an improved team already. If they can firm up their bullpen and perhaps add another veteran starter, the team could find itself in contention with the Yankees getting old and the Red Sox in rebuilding mode.

The Marlins will acquire SS Yunel Escobar, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, SP Henderson Alvarez, C Jeff Mathis, and two prospects – P

Jake Marisnick could be the jewel of this deal for the Marlins. Photo Credit: mwlguide

Justin Nicolino and OF Jake Marisnick.

Yunel Escobar (SS) – The Marlins have announced plans to start rookie Adeiny Hechavarria at shortstop next spring, so Escobar will have to play either second or third base next season. Escobar’s attitude and work ethic have been called into question at various times throughout his career, so he may not be amenable to changing positions for his new employer. Then again, his stay in Miami may not be long lived. There are several teams in need at shortstop, and given that Escobar may be one of the Marlins’ highest paid players (if the deal is consummated), there is a good chance they will flip him to another club in short order. Escobar had a strong first season with Toronto in 2011, but took a step back in 2012, regaining some of the bad habits he exhibited when he was a member of the Braves, most notably a lack of patience at the plate. His walk rate tumbled to 5.8 percent, down considerably from 10.3 percent in 2011 and his 8.9 percent career mark. As a result, his OBP tumbled to .300, unacceptably low for a player with middling power (at best). If he remains with the Marlins, chances are that Escobar will slip further into oblivion and lose whatever Fantasy value he has left. The best scenario for Escobar would be a trade to a contender where he can start at shortstop and hit second in a more talented lineup. So it’s wait and see for Escobar in 2013.

Jeff Mathis (C) – Mathis is a fine defensive catcher, but he has no stick to speak of. Unfortunately, Mathis never learned to take a walk, strikes out way too often and doesn’t have much in the way of power. All of which makes him useless as a Fantasy catcher, so there is little or no value in pondering his role with the Marlins. Even if he plays full time for Florida, he won’t have any mixed league value and NL-only leaguers would do best to leave him on the waiver wire until every single other catcher in the league is injured.

Henderson Alvarez (P) – Alvarez is a young (22) pitcher with excellent stuff, but he is clearly not a strikeout pitcher and the long ball has been a problem for him throughout his 41 major league starts. Granted, he’ll be moving to the much easier NL East from what is arguably the toughest division in baseball, the AL East. However, the slight boost he’ll get from the league change won’t be enough to make Alvarez a good Fantasy pitcher. He will have to boost his K rate up above the 6.57 K/9 he displayed in Double A ball, which should illustrate why I don’t have much hope for Alvarez as a Fantasy pitcher. His future could be in the bullpen unless he becomes more effective than he’s been thus far. He’s certainly young enough to turn things around, but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen.

Adeiny Hechavarria (SS) – Everything I’ve read about Hechavarria portrays him as an all-glove, no-stick type of player. He’s certainly a slick fielder with the ability to play both shortstop and third base. However, he lacks patience at the plate, has little or no power, and he strikes out far too often for a hitter of his type. Unfortunately, he isn’t very fast either, so he won’t steal many bases, which really limits his Fantasy value going forward. Of course, it is possible that he’ll be a better hitter than the scouts currently project him to be. After all, he did bat .312 over 490 PA at Triple-A in 2012, but that was in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. It’s the .235 mark he put up at Double A in 2011 that has most scouts thinking his hit tool just isn’t there. So 2013 doesn’t look like a good year to bet on Hechavarria as a Fantasy commodity at shortstop. However, I would recommend taking a long look at him in the spring and perhaps consider taking a late-round flier on him in dynasty leagues and deeper mixed formats if it looks like the kid will hit.

Justin Nicolino (LHP) – Scouts currently project Nicolino as a middle of the rotation starter, but he is still several years from being ready for prime time. His first full season of A ball went quite well, as he posted a record of 10-4 with a 2.46 ERA and he struck out 8.61 batters per nine innings while walking just 1.52 per nine. He reaches 92 mph, a pretty good velocity for a southpaw, has a plus changeup and is working on developing a slider to go with his curveball for a total of four pitches. The only problem is that none of the four are considered the type of stuff that induces a swing and miss. With, at least two more years of development ahead of him, the jury is still out on Nicolino. Dynasty league players will want to monitor his progress as a potential candidate for their 2014 drafts, but aside from that there is little or no chance he’ll make a Fantasy impact next season.

Jake Marisnick (OF) – Marisnick is the crown jewel of the Mariners haul. He projects as a middle of the order corner outfielder with decent speed and developing power. He played well and hit in the lower minors but struggled at the plate in 247 PA at Double-A last season. He’s very good defensively, covering plenty of ground and displaying a strong arm that makes him fit for either corner outfield position. There are questions about his hit tool, but little doubt about his ability to hit for power. Look for him to begin 2013 at Double-A again, but I expect the Marlins to put him on the fast track to the majors, possibly giving him a shot before the end of the season. Other than Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins don’t have anyone standing in Marisnick’s way (no, not even Logan Morrison!), so by 2014 he could be a regular in the lineup. Dynasty leaguers will want to draft him next spring to tuck him away and mixed league players should monitor his progress next season as well.

Since nobody can predict what the Marlins are planning to do as far as fielding a team next season, it’s difficult to say whether they are done with trades and free agent signings this winter. While their salary dump frees up a ton of money that could be spent on several impact players on the free agent market, the reality is that the Marlins will likely enter 2013 with one of the lowest total payrolls in MLB. The sheer lack of talent left on the roster will have a detrimental impact on the Fantasy value of players like Logan Morrison and Giancarlo Stanton. It appears that the team will elect to field several very young players as a cost saving measure in 2013, and their lack of experience will leave the remaining veterans with minimal hitting support in the lineup. In other words – downgrade the Fantasy value of all your Marlins players in all Fantasy formats until further notice.

Odds and Ends

The Marlins signed OF Juan Pierre to a one-year deal worth $1.6M pending a physical. Pierre can still hit, as he proved in 2012 with the Phillies, for whom he batted .307 over 130 games. He also stole an impressive 37 bases, getting caught just seven times, so despite being 35 years old he can still run, too. Pierre will likely fill the leadoff role vacated by the departure of Jose Reyes, so he could be a decent source of steals and runs scored in mixed leagues next season. Don’t expect him to cross the 100 runs scored plateau, though, given the Marlins lack of power in the middle of the order beyond Giancarlo Stanton… Rumors abound that the Mets are looking to extend the contracts of both David Wright and 2012 Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. However, the team is reportedly broke and does not have the funds to complete deals with the players until the new television money rolls in for the 2015 season. Both players are free agents after next season and could be wearing new uniforms before the trade deadline next July… Speaking of Dickey – don’t make the mistake of treating him like an ace in next season’s Fantasy drafts. Chances are very slim that he’ll post another 20 win season in 2013. The last knuckleballer to put together back-to-back 20-win seasons is Wilbur Wood, who had four consecutive 20-win seasons back in the early 70’s for the White Sox. Wood never won a Cy Young award and it’s important to remember that he averaged 45 starts and 368 innings per season back then to get his 20 wins… The Red Sox are reportedly in the hunt to acquire Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo from the Indians. The Phillies have also expressed an interest in Choo… The signing of Melky Cabrera to a two-year $16M deal by the Blue Jays came as a surprise to many baseball people. Toronto didn’t get as big a discount as many expected. If Cabrera can hit without juicing, Toronto will have one of the more formidable lineups in the AL East… Mike Napoli wants to remain a catcher, which probably rules out the Red Sox as a landing spot for him. The Sox are interested, but they want him as a first baseman. They already have three catchers on the roster and are probably shopping Jarrod Saltalamacchia… The signing of Torii Hunter to a two-year, $26M deal by the Tigers will probably set the market for Cody Ross, who is considerably younger. The Braves want Ross, but they are among at least six teams that are said to be interested. The Braves have also been linked to B.J. Upton. Ross is thought to be waiting to see where and how much Nick Swisher signs for before making a decision… The Rays need to bring some offense in during this winter and with their surplus of starting pitching they should be able to land a decent bat. Several reports have said that the only starter they won’t part with is David Price. So Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and James Shields could all be in play, though, they will probably only deal one of them.

Tim McCullough is the Assistant Editor for RotoExperts.com. Questions, comments and requests are welcome. Contact Tim at tim.m@rotoexperts.com

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