It is important to remember that, when one evaluates a trade in hindsight, the process is more important than the results.
The process that supported the blockbuster Miami Marlins-Torono Blue Jays trade in November 2012 was questionable on either side. On the Marlins' side, the Fish shed salary and gained prospects, but they also shed credibility and gained more negative publicity than they probably expected. On the Blue Jays' side, the team was acquiring the best players on one of the lesser teams in the league, along with a hefty amount of salary, and hoping that that would springboard them into contention. There were major question marks on both sides.
One season should not be a referendum on a trade that should have a major impact for years after its completion, but there is nary a positive to be found on the Blue Jays' side. While both sides had some early bad luck in the trade, more and more news is coming out that the Jays are struggling with the results of this deal. The latest news is that "ace" pitcher Josh Johnson, who has struggled all season long, will miss the rest of the year with a strained forearm.
This caps an ugly season for the Jays in which their competitive hopes fell by the wayside in a series of bad events that happened as early as the start of the year. These so-called bad events often involved members of the infamous fire sale trade. Each of the players the Jays acquired in that deal has disappointed in some way.
Josh Johnson: Johnson has been hurt twice for significant amounts of time this season after a full, less efficient 2012 year. His numbers while he has been on field have been awful too, as he has given up a huge number of long balls and boasts a 6.20 ERA and 4.61 FIP. This is Johnson's final year of a four-year extension signed in 2010 with Miami, so he will head into free agency and the Jays will surely receive nothing in return.
Jose Reyes: Reyes had a ridiculously hot start to open the year, but then he broke his ankle and missed more than two months recovering from the injury. When he returned, he had a nice July, but he has struggled enough in August that his batting line has returned to a .293/.348/.430 (.340 wOBA), which is almost exactly what he hit last year.
Mark Buehrle: Buehrle has actually since recovered from his ugly start of the 2013 season. He is down to a 4.08 ERA and 4.07 FIP, which is exactly the sort of Mark Buehrle-esque line you would expect to see. No real complaints here, I suppose, except that his salary is about to creep up next season.
Emilio Bonifacio: Bonifacio returned to being the 2009 version of himself in limited and sporadic playing time, and that was enough to make the Jays trade him to the Kansas City Royals for very little.
The Jays made those acquisitions in an attempt to bolster their roster to win in 2013. Instead, they acquired four players who stayed on the Jays and contributed just 2.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) between them. The investment cost the Jays not only good prospects, but $28.85 million in salary this season and another $121 million in commitments over the next five years.
Meanwhile, the Miami Marlins have restocked their farm system as advertised, and even though the on-field contributions from the players expected to play has been light, the Fish are sure glad they are not paying that salary. In total, the Marlins have gotten -0.7 WAR out of the players they acquired from the deal with Toronto. That includes some solid play by Henderson Alvarez (1.4 WAR) and some awful play by Adeiny Hechavarria (-1.6 WAR). Alvarez's return has been good thus far, and the Marlins are likely to keep him in the rotation, but Hechavarria looks like he might be the next early-2000's Alex Gonzalez in terms of his poor production at the plate, and Jeff Mathis still remains on the team as a starting catcher. Derek Dietrich, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays one-for-one for Yunel Escobar, is an unfinished product and remains to be seen.
The key for this trade so far for Miami is that they acquired some depth in their minor league system. Justin Nicolino, Anthony Desclafani, and Jake Marisnick all appear to have some promise, and Marisnick at least made some of the midseason top 50 prospect lists with his strong Double-A performance. It is likely that he will open the year in Triple-A while the other two will start in Double-A next year and get a look at the end of the year in the majors. To get three decent-to-higher end prospects out of a deal whose primary goal was to shed salary is an accomplishment, and the Marlins should be happy with this half of the return.
Still, we should keep the mantra from the start of this article in mind. In evaluating trades, the process is more important than the results. The fact that things have panned out significantly for the Marlins does not mean that this trade was the right thing to do. From a baseball standpoint, this deal figured to always be better for Miami, as shedding the amount of salary that they did allows them to be more flexible with their payroll. But the problems with this trade remain; the Marlins still need to actually use the money saved in order to help the team, rather than simply have it pocketed by owner Jeffrey Loria. Without reinvestment of the salary cleared, the Marlins are just acquiring prospects with potential talent for actual talent, even if that actual talent has not produced this season.
The story of the Marlins-Blue Jays blockbuster trade is still ongoing. The results of this deal will span the next decade. But the rationale and process behind the deal for both sides is still questionable, no matter how well off Miami or Toronto ends up being.