During the midseason, when the Miami Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez in a deal that seemed contingent on dumping his $38 million remaining on his contract, folks clamored about a fire sale. I defended the Marlins organization, claiming that the Fish were merely getting rid of a deal that was not working in their favor. The Marlins claimed that they would "not stop spending" necessarily and that the outcomes of the deal would ultimately be determined not only by the results of pitching prospect Nathan Eovaldi, but also by how the team utilized the money saved.
Today, the Marlins proved that their old ways have not yet left the team. In a stunning move, the team traded Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, and an additional $4 million to the Toronto Blue Jays for shortstop Yunel Escobar, catcher Jeff Mathis, pitcher Henderson Alvarez, and prospects Adeiny Hechevarria, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony DeSclafani.
The names the Marlins are trading are big. The names the Marlins are receiving in return are mixed, with some being major league-caliber players who will immediately step in to open areas on the team, while others are prospects who are at varying levels of expected success. But there is no denying that there is one common theme about this Marlins trade, the one theme that you will hear echoed many times over in the next few days on this site and others: this is a fire sale.
The Marlins cannot deny this now. Hanley Ramirez, I could understand; after all, he was struggling and was owed plenty of money. Omar Infante, he was just an added asset along with Anibal Sanchez used by the team to acquire a top pitching prospect in Jacob Turner. Sanchez was leaving at the end of the season. All of the midseason trades were justifiable as non-fire sale affairs. But this deal is like accomplishing the entire 2006 fire sale in one fell swoop, knocking out everyone with significant major league money and talent away in one massive, depressing trade.
Never mind what the Marlins got in return. It is possible that Marisnick, Nicolio, and Hechevarria could develop into decent players who will contribute in the long haul for this team. It is not far-fetched to believe Yunel Escobar could bounce back and have another four-win season on the cheap. It is possible that the team could rebuild after another terrible season or two and subsequent high draft picks. Yet, despite all those possibilities (none of which are guarantees nor even particularly likely), the worst part is the knowledge that this trade had very little to do with getting the best return and had everything to do with dumping the salary of 2012 alongside the memories of a broken season. The Marlins opted to burn the entire house down following a tragedy of a season rather than building upon what they had with measured intelligence.
The worst part about this trade is that the Marlins did not need to perform this move. We had heard rumors that the Fish were going to sport an $80 million payroll next season. The team had two players in Reyes and Buehrle who were locked into long-term deals at reasonable rates given their projections following their 2012 season. Instead of taking a measured approach and trading a player like Johnson to slowly acquire parts, the team panicked, as it seems they did with their midseason moves, and got rid of all of the players who were making anything resembling a real salary. Rather than taking a decent foundation in players like Buehrle or Reyes, who were already signed and could have still been a part of a winning team as early as 2014, and instead decided that the organization was not ready to win for five or six years.
Using conservative estimates, we can predict just how many wins the Marlins gave up in this trade. Josh Johnson could be expected to be a four-win pitcher next season. Reyes is likely to be around a four-win player as well. Buehrle similarly could be a 2.5-win pitcher. In just those three names, the Marlins easily dealt 10.5 wins from a team that likely would have finished the year with at most 75 victories. Add on John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio and the team is likely losing along the lines of 12 wins from its current iteration, which was likely to compete for a spot near the bottom of the NL East. With the move, this is an absolute guarantee that the Marlins will suffer a horrific season in 2013 after a worst-case scenario in 2012.
And that gets right to the public relations aspect of the fire sale. Many Marlins fans were expecting such a move, and it seemed as recently as midseason that their fears were at least premature. Now, Marlins fans that foretold the arrival of the fire sale look like soothsayers in the face of the most drastic face change the Marlins organization has ever undertaken in one move. And with that, the trust of the fan base, which was already beginning to be skeptical in the latter stages of 2012 as the team fielded a series of scrubs at various positions, has been completely shattered. Previously, it was difficult to believe that Jeffrey Loria would do such a thing given the PR problems that he would likely face in the wake of a fire sale. It seems he is unconcerned about drastically falling attendance, as the most likely result will certainly be a sparsely-attended Marlins Park following this ultimate act of betrayal of trust. If Marlins fans were angry at Jeffrey Loria before, this heinous move will certainly spark a reaction far greater than the one Ozzie Guillen received for his early-season comments.
Alas, Marlins fans, or what remains of the organization's base after the move, do have a bright side to all of this. Marisnick and Nicolino seem like decent prospects and Yunel Escobar is a bounce back candidate after a second awful season in the last three years. And to be fair, it would have been difficult to get much in return for Reyes and Buehrle simply because they were fairly paid and as a result had no surplus value beyond their contracts. If multiple balls bounce well, the team may have two or three major leaguers in their haul. At the very least, the trade restocks a terrible minor league organization.
But the Blue Jays simply did not send enough back to justify a dramatic change in the organization's direction. And with all of the salary coming off of the books so immediately, you can suspect that the team will not reinvest significantly into the organization, especially with the Marlins suddenly being an unimpressive free agent destination. Couple that with the potential alienation of Giancarlo Stanton, who was suddenly abandoned on a barren team by the Marlins' brass, and right now it seems far more likely that this team and organization are more likely to be struggling in the next five seasons than doing well.