2013 Marlins Season Review: The Toronto Blue Jays fire sale trade

Henderson Alvarez was the most valuable piece from the fire sale trade in 2013. - Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Miami Marlins made a landmark trade and acquired prospects from the Toronto Blue Jays in favor of much of their 2012 core. The return in 2013 was favorable.

The 2013 Miami Marlins season was marred by one major happenstance in 2012. The Miami Marlins had entered the offseason before this past year with questionable interests. Were they going to reinvest into the franchise? Where was their payroll going to end up?

By November 13, 2012, it became obvious what the team's plans were. The Marlins sent away Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio, a solid number of players from their 2012 core, to the Toronto Blue Jays for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, and prospects Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Anthony DeSclafani. It may have been one of the single largest trades in Marlins history in terms of roster impact, and it may have very well been the single biggest trade in terms of historical implications. The trade heralded a return to the ways of old despite the addition of a new stadium, and it showed that the Marlins would never be funded in a way that would lead to sustainable success.

But in terms of a pure baseball perspective, it was actually a very good move. The Marlins traded assets that were never going to hold surplus value beyond their contracts, and because the Fish backloaded their deals, the contracts of players like Reyes and Buehrle were going to become unbearable in the coming years. The Fish dumped a large amount of salary in players who were likely not to meet their contract value and picked up talented prospects who could become cheap parts to the next Marlins competitive franchise.

The 2013 season is over, and the first year's returns for this trade are in the books. How did the first year go for either team? Let's take a look at each side's tally.

Blue Jays
Blue Jays, 2013 fWAR rWAR Avg WAR Salary ($mil)
Jose Reyes 2.2 2.5 2.4 7.0
Josh Johnson 0.5 -1.6 -0.6 11.3
Mark Buehrle 2.5 2.1 2.3 8.0
Emilio Bonifacio -0.4 0.1 -0.1 2.0
Total 4.8 3.1 4.2 28.3

The Jays got some production from these four players, plus a fraction of the production received from R.A. Dickey and Josh Thole comes from adding Buck as a add-on piece with the deal with the New York Mets. But all in all, you can see that the value they received was not great. Those four players who remained on contract contributed just an average of around four wins this season, or about the equivalent of what Jay Bruce or Brandon Belt produced this year all on their own. It took these players 701 plate appearances and 285 innings to produce that same production on the field.

The problems this season for this set of Blue Jays were pretty evident. Jose Reyes had a decent campaign, but it was cut short thanks to a broken ankle; he only contributed 419 plate apperances. Josh Johnson was broken from the start of the year and it took 81 1/3 innings to finally get the Jays to look at his dead shoulder, for which he later had to undergo surgery. Emilio Bonifacio was one of the worst hitters in the league this year among players with more than 200 plate appearances. Only Buehrle provided exactly what was expected from him, and that came after an ugly first half.

The key to why the Jays struggled could be seen not in these players' performances, but in their salaries. The Jays committed to about $28 million to these four players, but they did not receive the sort of production they needed for that money. The team was expecting at least free agent-level production, but if you go by the oft-quoted $5 million per WAR rate, the Jays lost out on about 1.5 wins from expected value. Perhaps more importantly, the franchise also committed to huge sums in future seasons, as Reyes and Buehrle are owed an additional $127 million over the next four years.

The gamble was that the Jays could acquire these players to supplement their roster and win now, only to suffer the payroll consequences later. They failed the former and still have the latter coming to them.

Marlins
Marlins, 2013 fWAR rWAR Avg WAR Salary ($mil)
Henderson Alvarez 1.9 1.9 1.9 0.5
Adeiny Hechavarria -1.9 -2.1 -2.0 2.7
Jeff Mathis -0.5 -0.3 -0.4 1.5
Derek Dietrich 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.2
Jake Marisnick -0.2 0.1 0.0 0.1
Former player salaries --- --- --- 8.5
Total -0.7 -0.2 -0.4 13.5

*Dietrich is included because he was swapped one-for-one for Escobar

The Marlins went in an opposite direction. Many of the players whom they acquired did not succeed at the Major League level. Henderson Alvarez had a strong season for the Fish, but Adeiny Hechavarria essentially erased all of the good that Alvarez provided by being one of the worst Major Leaguers in baseball this season. The rest of the players acquired by the Fish barely produced anything, as the team got essentially replacement-level play from the group for the season. The Fish did not pay much for those players, but they did chip in $8.5 million in salary relief to the Jays for the players the Marlins sent over.

Overall, the tam paid $13.5 million in dead money and the salaries of the five contributing players this season. If that were the only part of the equation, the Marlins' return would sure look worse this year. But the equation still contains more prospects like Nicolino and full seasons of development from guys like Marisnick, who only received an extended cup of coffee before getting benched and later injured. Essentially, the Marlins have a chance to get positive contribution at cheap prices from players who have yet to grow into form, even if the current Major Leaguers play out in the exact same way going forward.

Contrast that to what the Jays have in store for them in future years. The team will not return Johnson, who was an absolute bust and should struggle to find a contract in this upcoming free agent season. Reyes and Buehrle are moderate commodities right now, but they will be paid a hefty sum going forward. The Jays can only look forward to their return going down in value, while the Marlins can really only look for it to go up. The difference from this season of four wins did not justify the terrible end-game that is likely to come for the Jays.

For the time being, that is the analysis of this trade. If the Marlins ever get star performances from any of these prospects or players, it would be icing on the cake. It was difficult to watch Reyes and company go, and the trade may still have damaged the already terrible reputation of Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins' front office and ownership, but the team is better off going forward from a baseball perspective. The Marlins have only positive things to look forward to, while the Jays are stuck wallowing in $127 million of future debt without a promise of performance.

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