The “ninja” has returned, and for the first time in a very long while it genuinely feels like anything is possible.
You almost certainly know the details by now, but for the sake of completeness: in a double franchise-altering, perception-skewing, paradigm-shifting, division-tilting mega-trade, the Toronto Blue Jays have essentially– if not quite literally– doubled their payroll, acquiring from the Miami Marlins (pending league approval, which is expected to come Wednesday) RHP Josh Johnson, LHP Mark Buehrle, SS Jose Reyes, INF/OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck, and perhaps most unbelievably of all, $4-million.
To get these pieces the Jays give up SS Yunel Escobar, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, RHP Henderson Alvarez, C Jeff Mathis, and prospects OF Jake Marisnick, LHP Justin Nicolino, and RHP Anthony DeSclafani.
It still doesn’t feel real, and I’m not sure it will even after we do get official word that it’s gone through.
That’s largely because even the most cynical, pissing-and-moaning, Rogers-hating fan has to give full-on, ridiculous amounts of genuinely-shocking credit to ownership, who’ve added a crazy amount to not only the club’s 2012 payroll in order to make a deal that genuinely shifts the balance in the American League East, but to the Jays’ long-term salary structure, especially given that the deals to Reyes and Buehrle are backloaded considerably.
For 2012, the Jays shed $9.25-million from Mathis, Escobar and Hechavarria, plus a league minimum deal for Alvarez, while adding nearly $45-million– $13.75-million for Johnson, $10-million for Reyes, $12-million for Buehrle, $6.5-million for Buck and a projected $2.5-million in arbitration for Bonifacio. Factor in the $4-million of salary relief, and we’re looking at about $31-million being added to a payroll that Shi Davidi of Sportsnet already figured was going to be approximately $79-million, bringing the club to about $110-million as it currently stands.
More impressively– aka the kicker, if you’re Rogers, or the thing that will haunt your dreams, if you’re a fan worried about Rogers one day suddenly reneging on this spirit-buoying burst of goodwill– is the fact that Buehrle’s deal escalates to $19-million for 2014 and $20-million for 2015, while Reyes goes to $16-million in 2014 (making him and his turf-beaten knees the highest paid player on the club), then $22-million in each of 2015, ’16, and ’17.
Yes, one of the most amazing things about Rogers’ decade-plus of stewardship of this club is that even on a night like this– a night of tremendous optimism for the franchise and fans– we can’t get away from questions about how long this commitment might last. Without question, Rogers has earned that doubt. And putting their money where their mouth is only stems it so much. But I’ll say this: today, for once, those are some difficult words to stammer out, and that’s fucking huge.
So huge, in fact, that papers over a lot of warts we might otherwise be seeing all over this deal. Johnson has big health red flags, having missed much of 2007 with elbow trouble, 2008 with Tommy John, and 2011 with shoulder inflammation; Buehrle is aging and expensive; Reyes, though mystifyingly seven months younger than Escobar, may not age well on turf and costs about a bajillion dollars more; and the prospects headed Miami’s way still have a great deal of upside.
But on the other hand… fuck it.
Reyes has been worth nearly 11 wins above replacement over the last two years! He’s a damn switch hitter! A legit lead-off man! A star!
Johnson has been worth ten wins over his last two healthy seasons, discounting his injury-riddled 2011. And he stayed healthy last year! Was absolutely dominant two years prior! And the Jays have a giant head start on re-signing him if he shows he’s back to even the four win pitcher he was last year, let alone the six win guy he was before!
Buehrle has been worth about six wins over the last two years! He pitched over 200 innings in both of them! And each of the ten years previous!
The two pitchers instantly address the club’s most painfully obvious area of need, adding talent above and beyond any realist’s most optimistic hope about what the club could have landed by way of the free agent market. And in 2010, Reyes’ worst full season since 2005, he was still worth a win more than two of Escobar’s last three– last year he was worth 4.5 to Yunel’s 1.8.
Not only that, he allows the club to distance themselves further from this summer’s homophobic slur incident.
Maybe more impressive still, the Jays didn’t even come close to destroying their farm system to make these major upgrades. Nicolino was the most polished, but had the lowest upside of the “Lansing Three”; Marisnick needed to force his way past a number of guys in the outfield before he could impact; Hechavarria is still no sure thing with the bat; and Alvarez throws hard but is nobody’s starter until he finds a third pitch.
The Jays got this deal done without moving Sanchez, Syndergaard, Osuna, d’Arnaud, Gose, Lawrie, or even Arencibia– who looks a strong candidate to be flipped, now that John Buck is setup perfectly to open the year as the Jays’ catcher, with Travis d’Arnaud coming along slowly and taking over the gig for good come 2014.
There’s Bonifacio, too– a nice little utility pickup, especially combined with the nice little utility pickup of last week. He was hurt last year but put up 3.3 fWAR in 2011. He’s a switch hitter, can fill in at a number of positions, and has stolen 70 bases over past two seasons, being caught only 13 times.
Perhaps best of all, the Jays– and Rogers, in particular– have shown something for once. I’m somewhat loath to get greedy, but they’re a much more attractive destination today than they were yesterday– or basically since their rotation went up in flames mid-season. Does a Melky Cabrera maybe now kind of want to come here? Does a Brandon McCarthy? A Joe Torre? A Bobby Cox?
Yes, these are wildly optimistic questions for fans who two weeks ago were applauding the sleight of hand that saved a presumably much-needed $500K from the 2013 payroll thanks to a curious pact with Rajai Davis. But why not?
Why not go for the kill?
I mean, ultimately, all that Rogers has bought themselves here is a brief respite from the negativism that’s been spewed all over their brand and their franchise for the last several months, at least, and that had been festering below the surface (if not overtly) for maybe longer even than its been since the last time they feebly tried to pay down their previous years of payroll lip service.
And really, it’s only an odd stroke– part luck, part genius– that’s brought us here: the Marlins’ despicable and long planned-for fire sale, and the shrewdness of Alex Anthopoulos, who has stockpiled the trade chips and budgeted with such austerity to place himself in a position to convince both Rogers and the Marlins that this deal needed to happen.
Sure, it’s all blowjobs and gumdrops today– all basking in tweets like Nick Cafardo’s, which says that the Red Sox “made a push for both Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson, but Jays just blew Marlins away”– but what the hell were they going to do if this didn’t come along??? I’m at least, at this moment, more comfortable that something would have been possible this winter, but… I’m not really sure how I feel about it right now, or why I feel compelled to reflect this way after what’s been a total starburst of a gut punch to my preparations for a long, mostly venomous, and ultimately disappointing slog through the off-season.
Like… surely somewhere there’s a parallel universe where this trade doesn’t magically appear, and the Jays ended up dealing for Gavin Floyd, signing a couple low-end rotation options, getting Beltran’d by the guys they really wanted and limping into next year on false hope. It’d be a real comfortable place, I think. And maybe, in a way that I didn’t want to admit to myself, seemed all too inevitable.
Tonight feels more than anything like a real chance to break free of that for a long time. We have a real team. Real owners. Real optimism. And the only thing that’s kinda hard to believe is that it’s really for us.
Yeah, it’s just one fifth of last year’s shitty Marlins, and uncomfortably goddamn expensive, but holy shit. HOLY SHIT! Maybe let’s turn into total dickheads and get greedy…
Image via @ArchiZuber.