The opening of Marlins Park was supposed to signify a new era for the Marlins, one where the franchise had the revenue necessary to finally make significant investments in its long-term future. The ballyhooed offseason signings going into the 2012 season seemed to support that. But the event that transpired one year ago today signified that nothing may have changed in the way Jeffrey Loria runs the franchise. On this date, November 13, 2012, Miami shocked the baseball world by completing a blockbuster trade with the Blue Jays, shipping off Josh Johnson, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle--the latter two having been signed to huge contracts just one year before--for a return of four young players and three prospects.
For almost as long as the franchise has been in existence, Marlins ownership had decried the competitive disadvantages that came with the team being forced to use a football-first stadium as its home. Owners Wayne Huizenga, John Henry and Jeffrey Loria all claimed in succession that they couldn't make significant payroll investments in the team until they significantly increased revenue, a problem which a new stadium would solve. Until then, fire sales and an inability (or unwillingness) to retain star players for the duration of their careers would be the norm.
But as the 2012 season approached, the rebranded Miami Marlins finally had that new stadium and, as promised, Loria splurged on high-priced free agents in a radical departure from past operating practice. Jose Reyes, perhaps the top player on the market along with Albert Pujols, was signed for six years and $106 million; Mark Buehrle was signed for four years and $58 million; and Heath Bell was signed for three years and $27 million. With the combination of those additions, a former World Series-winning manager in Ozzie Guillen and an already-talented roster, Miami looked set to contend for the postseason.
As Marlins fans remember--it wasn't that long ago, obviously--it all fell apart in spectacular fashion. The team could only manage to hang around .500 until late July before finishing in last place with a 69-93 record. Bell clashed with Guillen, who feuded with ownership, and the Marlins became somewhat of a laughingstock as Showtime broadcast the discord on "The Franchise," its "Hard Knocks"-style show. Hanley Ramirez and Omar Infante were traded during the season, Guillen was fired after the season, and then came the denouement in the form of the trade with Toronto.
Marlins' leadership wasn't so foolish as to pretend the trade wasn't about shedding salaries. President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest admitted that Loria had instructed him to pare payroll to a certain level. Yet Loria went beyond that, justifying the deal as necessary in order to change the structure of a team that had finished in last for two straight seasons. Never mind the flawed logic in that reasoning--if the fix after 2011 was to invest in high-priced players, how could the fix after 2012 be to get rid of those same players, as well as other regulars? (Loria also said the move marked a return to "Marlins baseball," which he defined as "high energy and hungry." Four years earlier, in the wake of the Josh Willingham/Scott Olsen trade, Loria defined "Marlins baseball" as speed and pitching. It appears the franchise's identity is as fleeting as its stars' stints with the team.)
Loria certainly succeeded in paring down payroll. In the contracts of Reyes, Buehrle and Bell (who was traded in October) alone, the team shed $166 million off the books. Add in the other players involved and the in-season trades of Infante and Ramirez, and in total the Marlins got rid of $236 million future salaries.
One year later, the trade has actually ended up about even. For the Blue Jays this season, Reyes played well when healthy but missed some time; Johnson missed significant time with injures and pitched poorly when he was healthy; Buck was quickly traded to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal; Bonifacio didn't do much and was sent to Kansas City in August; and Buehrle ended up pitching pretty solidly after some rough spurts. On the Marlins' side, young starter Henderson Alvarez pitched better than expected and ended the year with a flourish by tossing a no-hitter; Adeiny Hechavarria played very good defense at shortstop but provided almost no offense; and Jeff Mathis started at catcher. Most importantly as far as Miami is concerned, the three prospects received--outfielder Jake Marisnick and pitchers Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani--look to have solid upside, having just been ranked the Marlins' Nos. 3-5 prospects by Baseball America. The trio could make significant contributions to the team down the line, and when added to the corp of young talent headed by players such as Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton, Miami appears set to contend for a long time.
But that scenario assumes that Marlins ownership will be willing to pay to keep all this talent in Miami, and as this trade shows, that's still a big assumption to make. Stanton, for example, continues to be the subject of trade rumors, and there's no telling if the Marlins will sign him to a long-term deal. As soon as it appeared that a new era had dawned for the franchise in terms of monetary investment, it all came crashing down with this trade. Loria had promised for years a new stadium would be the key to increasing payroll, the key to ending the fire sales and the short-lived bouts of playoff contention. Yet here the Marlins are again, resetting the team with young talent and hoping to make a run in the near future. Maybe this was the last fire sale, and all the young talent currently with the franchise will stay with it for a long time. Only time will tell if this restart is the last hurdle before entering a new era or merely the continuation of the frustrating status quo. Despite positive early returns, that uncertainty is the legacy of the trade with the Blue Jays one year later.