By Mike Harrington
The epic Blue Jays-Marlins trade has been widely discussed for days but we entered the weekend with no official announcement of the deal from MLB or the teams because the physicals weren’t done and Bud Selig had not weighed on with his review.
When it does, it completely changes the landscape of the American League East. The Red Sox are clearly in transition and you wonder how much longer the Yankees can last with an aging team. The Orioles built last season on pixie dust – they’re not winning 16 straight extra-inning games again – and you wonder if they were a one-hit wonder. The Rays continue to be strong on the mound but questions about their eroding fan base and stadium make you wonder when the distraction level will get too high.
It’s clearly time for the Blue Jays to strike. On the day they signed with the Bisons in September, I talked to Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston about the franchise’s incredible playoff drought that stretches to Joe Carter’s World Series-winning home run in 1993. I asked him what it was like to live with going from 11 straight years of contention to being in “Pirates-Royals territory.”
Beeston nodded, looked straight at me and said, “We have to turn that around. It’s not fun, not fun at all.”
And while the Jays’ farm system has plenty of talent, it was clear that an all-in approach was needed right now. You want to take advantage of peak years from the likes of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, among others, and not let them go to waste. Hence, the deal with the Marlins and the signing of Melky Cabrera.
An entire generation doesn’t remember but the Blue Jays once had the highest payroll in the game (around $47 million in 1993). Future Hall of Famers like Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor signed as free agents and so did superstar pitchers like Jack Morris and Dave Stewart. There were far from full houses at Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium but you couldn’t get a ticket in the then-SkyDome.
We’re never going back to that kind of disparity but there’s no question the Jays have a fan base that will respond to a winning team. Fans in Toronto are starved for it. The Raptors and Maple Leafs are terrible and the Leafs, of course, aren’t even on the ice. The CFL Argonauts are pushing to make the Grey Cup but remain a heavily regional niche sport.
A quick look at some of the key parties in the deal:
Selig: He didn’t stop the Red Sox salary dump to the Dodgers last season because he know Boston was clearly opening up room to retool. He has to send a stern message to Miami owner Jeffrey Loria not to simply pocket revenue sharing money. The Marlins got plenty of good prospects but this deal is a PR scandal in Florida in the wake of the $600 million the Marlins got to build their new ballpark.
Jose Reyes: He was reportedly vacationing in Dubai, which held up the physicals that needed to be done to complete the deal. You wonder how he feels about spending half his season on artificial turf with his balky hamstrings. Wish the Jays could go natural grass in the Rogers Centre. Simply too many other events there, especially football. Can’t see how it would work.
Mark Buehrle: FoxSports.com reported Friday that his wife furiously confronted Marlins president David Samson over the trade. Miami wouldn’t give no-trade clauses (one reason Albert Pujols didn’t sign last winter) but reportedly told Reyes and Buehrle they would not be dealt. Another issue: Buehrle has a pit bull named Slater and didn’t live in Dade County, which includes Miami, because they’re banned there. So he lived in neighboring Broward County and commuted. What’s he going to do now? Pit bulls are banned in Ontario.
More on Buehrle: Joel Sherman of the New York Post was quick to point out last week that Buehrle is just 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA in 12 career starts against the Yankees, a team he will likely a few starts a season against now. Among pitchers with at least 300 plate appearances against the Yankees since 1974, Buehrle’s .333 batting average against is the worst.
Josh Johnson: One year left on his deal. Can the Jays keep him? Hard to say. At the worst, they can get a big walk year out of him and then hope some of their numerous starting pitching prospects will be ready to fill a spot by 2014.
Marlins fans: Are there any left? Talk about class-action lawsuit. Hope they had not put in their season-ticket deposits yet for 2013. I realize the Marlins won 69 games last year with their star-studded lineup but that was as much about Heath Bell’s bullpen blowups and Ozzie Guillen’s Castro rantings more than anything else. Now Giancarlo Stanton ranted on Twitter and is likely out the door sooner rather than later too. Who’s paying big money to see a Triple-A lineup?
The Bisons: Speaking of Triple-A, the trade might hurt the Herd short-term with the loss of shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and outfielder Jake Marsinick, who would have started the season here. But the Cabrera signing likely means speedy Anthony Gose and Moises Sierra, who both got big-league time last year, start the season in Buffalo now. The Jays may need to sign an extra minor-league free agent or two but ultimately, it’s far better for the parent club to be relative on the national scale. Which was a better experience: Being aligned with World Series and division-winning Cleveland teams or the Mets of 2009-2012? Next case.
• A lot of silly crabbing in my eyes about the American League MVP vote. Twenty-seven of the twenty-eight ballots cast had Mike Trout either first or second! Sure, Miguel Cabrera had 22 firsts and Trout only had six but it’s not like people voted Trout fifth or sixth.
All the statheads who say the vote was wrong are acting like people voted Trout eighth. Clam up. Everyone voting recognized his value. All the intangibles were taken into consideration. How many rookies ever finish second in an MVP vote anyway? All this indignation you read all over the Internet is absurd.
The first Triple Crown winner in 45 years on a division champion means something. Period. I’m tired of hearing Cabrera played in the AL Central and that diminished what he did. Does the NFL discredit Tom Brady’s MVP awards because he’s played the Bills twice a year? Please.
The same stat geeks who try to say wins don’t mean anything for starting pitchers (see Felix Hernandez, 2010) are now trying to say batting average and RBIs don’t mean something too? Who suddenly made all of them keepers of baseball history after about, oh, 100 years?
• I like how baseball does its postseason awards and things really took a step up this year with the collaboration of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and MLB Network doing a daily live telecast. There were no leaks of winners like in the past and it was a first-rate presentation all around.
Best of all, baseball talk was frontburner stuff for four straight days in mid-November. Simply excellent.
• There are few athletes in any sport like R.A. Dickey. When I asked him on his national conference call Wednesday night upon when he first realized he might be a Cy Young contender, he dropped the phrase “organic manifestation” into his answer. Amazing guy, amazing story.
Around the horn
• Veteran infielder Bobby Scales, who batted .413 for the Bisons in April and then left to play in Japan, has retired and agreed to become director of player development for the Angels.
• When Red Sox lefty Jon Lester tweeted, “Welcome back John!! Can’t wait to get back to work!!” upon the return of John Farrell to Boston, it was pretty easy to see why. The Boston Globe calculated that Lester was 54-23 with a 3.40 earned-run average when Farrell was pitching coach and has gone 23-23, 4.17 since he left to manage in Toronto.
• Johnny Damon spent the week playing in Thailand, his mother’s homeland, in a World Baseball Classic qualifier. Unsigned after being released by the Indians, Damon is still 231 hits shy of 3,000. BaseballAnalytics.org and Baseball-Reference.com point out that Damon is one five players all-time with at least 500 doubles, 100 triples, and 400 steals in his career (the others are Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Paul Molitor and Ty Cobb).
• Damon and Molitor are the only players in history with at least 100 triples, 200 homers, 400 steals, and 500 doubles. If Damon is done, based on all the winning he did with the Yankees and Red Sox, it’s going to be interesting where he lands in Hall of Fame voting in a few years.
• The Mets have hired St. Joe’s grad and former Bisons strength coach Jim Malone as their conditioning coordinator. Malone, 45, spent the past seven seasons in that role with San Diego. He was also with the Mets in 2002 under Bobby Valentine.