In November, the Miami Marlins and the Toronto Blue Jays pulled off what may go down as the biggest fire sale trade in team history. The Marlins sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio, along with their combined owed salaries of more than $180 million, to the Blue Jays in return for Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, and prospects Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony Desclafani. It was a massive payroll dump for the Marlins that brought enough talent back to help supplement a depleted minor league system. For the Blue Jays, it was a windfall of talent for a team that struggled to stay afloat in 2012 thanks to injury.
Six months later, neither side can be happy with the return seen thus far. It seems that bad luck has followed the Marlins / Blue Jays trade almost everywhere it went. Placido Estevez of Marlin Maniac asked the question of which team has won the trade in the early going, but I believe the better question is whether any team can feel good thus far about the return. Almost every player in that trade has either underperformed or spent significant time on the disabled list, not allowing their respective teams to evaluate them properly.
The teams themselves find themselves in unenviable positions. The Marlins knew they were going to struggle in 2013, but a three-game win streak at the tail end of the month of April was the only thing that salvaged the Fish from posting their worst record in the month of April in team history (the record was a .261 win percentage in 1999). The Marlins have been an absolute mess on offense, scoring just 2.8 runs per game on the season while allowing 4.5 runs a game. While the Fish have been unlucky in one-run games as well (4-8 record), the team also has a Pythagorean record that is just one win better than what they have posted thus far.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays are an even more disappointing mess. Toronto is only two games better than the Marlins at this early stage of the year at 10-19. They were supposed to be early favorites for at least a Wild Card spot out of the AL East, and they were even dark horse candidates for the division crown. Instead, they have dug themselves into too deep a hole to realistically climb out of. Here's Dave Cameron on their current predicament:
If the Blue Jays play .525 baseball the rest of the way, they’ll finish 80-82. To win 90 games and give themselves a real shot at either of the wild card spots, they’d have to play .596 baseball over the remaining 136 games, which is a 96 win pace over a full season. That’s not impossible. Every year, three to five teams play around .600 baseball from May 1st to the end of the season.
Those teams just generally don’t come from the pool of clubs that were lousy in April.
Historically, few teams ever can play well enough to dig themselves out of the hole the Jays were in. The Marlins looked like they got a head start on that last season after they reeled off 21 wins in May, but they collapsed later in the season and ended up being an example of another struggling team in April who ended up struggling throughout the year. The Jays are in that situation, and it does not seem likely that they will be the exception rather than the rule.
This is especially true when you examine the players involved in the trade and how important they were to the Blue Jays. The Marlins have not done well with the results of their trade, but look at the results on the Blue Jays' side.
Jose Reyes: The jewel of the trade on the Jays' side was Reyes, and he was off to a fantastic .395/.465/.526 (.435 wOBA) start. Then Reyes injured his ankle and, though he will not need surgery on the ankle, he will still miss three months of play.
Josh Johnson: It was well-known that Johnson's velocity dipped last season and that he was not the same pitcher he was before his 2011 shoulder injury. But still, he was a good pitcher, even an All-Star caliber starter with some regression to his usual mean, heading into this season. Instead, Johnson has fallen further from his lofty 2009-2010 highs. His velocity with the Jays remains at around 92 to 93 mph, but the problem is that he is walking more batters (9.2 percent in 2013 versus 8.2 percent career) and given up a lot more home runs (three in 19 2/3 innings after he gave up 14 in 191 1/3 innings last year). This has led to a 6.86 ERA and 4.59 FIP in 2013.
Then, on top of his on-field struggles, Johnson also got injured with "triceps inflammation." I am a Marlins fan, but I also am a fan of both Reyes and Johnson, and I hope they recover well. Still, these early injuries have not helped the Jays.
Mark Buehrle: Buerhle has stayed healthy, but his problem is that he has also pitched terribly. He was a little homer-prone last season, but that has been blown up to an extreme in Toronto. Buehrle has allowed nine home runs in 35 innings en route to a 6.43 ERA and 6.33 FIP.
Emilio Bonifacio: Bonifacio was slated to back up multiple positions but has eked out 76 plate appearances thus far. The bad part is that his 76 appearances have yielded a .171/.213/.300 batting line (.224 wOBA). He is looking suspiciously like 2009 Bonerface rather than the solid regular he was in 2011 and 2012.
John Buck: The only player in that trade who did not stay in Toronto was Buck, and so far he has been one of the best hitter in the National League. So far Buck is hitting .264/.296/.593 (.373 wOBA) with nine homers and a .330 ISO.
It's not much prettier on the Marlins' side of things, however. The Fish acquired three players whom they expected to make immediate impact (four if you count the traded Yunel Escobar), and those two players have not done so.
Adeiny Hechavarria: Hechavarria has flashed some nice defense, even if the early defensive numbers (essentially irrelevant at this point) have not agreed. But he is also hitting .189/.232/.321 (.242 wOBA), a line that is easily the worst among the team's regular non-Juan Pierre starters. Also, Hechavarria went on the disabled list with elbow problems in mid-April and only just returned, forcing Marlins fans to be subjected to more Nick Green and Chris Valaika than they probably bargained for.
Henderson Alvarez: Alvarez was expected to start the season as one of the Marlins' rotation members, but he has yet to see the field outside of spring training. The day before the season began, the Marlins put him and Nathan Eovaldi on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, and Alvarez was recently shut down from his rehab with continued shoulder discomfort.
Jeff Mathis: Mathis has been hurt since the first game of spring training, as he broke his collarbone that game and has been out since. He recently started a rehab assignment in High-A Jupiter, so he should return to the roster within the next week. Still, he has done nothing for the Fish thus far, though his track record suggests that doing nothing for the Marlins is actually better than having him playing.
The other prospects that the Fish acquired are the players who are giving the Marlins the so-called "early edge" on this deal.
Jake Marisnick: Marisnick only recently made his Double-A Jacksonville debut, as his spring and early season were cut into by a hand injury. Still, he has some prospect sheen still on him and has looked decent in two games.
Justin Nicolino: Prospect maven Sam Evans profiled Nicolino a little earlier this month, and he mentioned that Nicolino was seeing success with control and balls in play despite a distinct lack of strikeouts. The missing strikeouts are very concerning, but otherwise he is playing fairly well, with a 3.68 ERA and 3.15 FIP to his name.
Anthony Desclafani: Desclafani has been the real surprise of this trade thus far, as he has posted a minuscule 0.44 ERA and 2.72 FIP in five starts in High-A Jupiter. His rates are a little more normal, with no extremes one way or another and rates similar to those he posted last year in Low-A with the Toronto organization.
Derek Dietrich: Dietrich was acquired one-for-one for Yunel Escobar, and so far he too is off to an impressive start. He is hitting .287/.417/.500 (.421 wOBA) through 115 plate appearances in Double-A Jacksonville. He has a 13.0 percent walk rate that is unheard of for him given his career 6.2 percent rate in three previous seasons.
So are the Marlins "ahead" in this deal? Sure, for now. But if you are going to take a retrospective analysis of this trade, it is going to have to happen years from now rather than a month into the immediate season. Johnson, Buehrle, and Reyes each have problems, but the Marlins have not gotten great contributions from their major league section of the trade either. There are still major questions about each and every prospect that the Marlins picked up, and those questions have not yet been answered in a month. Also, the Marlins still have not resolved the issue that they acquired Jeff Mathis in this deal!
Rather than declare early winners and losers, I think it is more interesting to point out that, at least at the highest levels of the game, every side is "losing" in this deal. The Jays committed to pay a lot of money and so far have not received production, while the Marlins were hoping for future centerpieces whom, thus far, have not excelled at their levels. The injuries to each side have been very unfortunate as well. Both the Marlins and the Jays have gotten some bad luck on their franchise-altering trade returns thus far.