There was a time when the Blue Jays were good. Really good. It was the early 90’s and I was just getting into baseball. The Yankees, my chosen team, were an up and coming squad but the Jays were clearly the class of the AL East. Led by Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar and John Olerud, among others, Toronto won back-to-back World Series titles in ’92 and ’93. They haven’t made the playoffs since, and although their record has never been terrible, the Jays have hovered right around the .500 mark for much of the past 20 years. Not bad enough to be considered a rebuilding team but not good enough to be labeled as contenders. Playing in the rough AL East while dealing with the unbalanced schedule hasn’t helped matters.
So earlier this week, perhaps fed up by two decades of mediocrity, the Toronto front office made the bold move of acquiring Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck from the Marlins for Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez Adeiny Hechavarria and a couple of prospects, Jake Marisnick and Justin Nicolino. I’m no Minor League guru, so I’m not going to get into the discussion about whether or not the Marlins received a decent enough return. All I’ll say is that I’m intrigued by Alvarez. He faded badly in the second half last season after an impressive start to the year, but he’s only 22 years old and is a control specialist. Moving from the AL East to the NL and a favorable pitcher’s park could be just what he needs to get back on track.
But looking at the trade from the Blue Jays’ perspective, this was a deal they had to make. How they found enough money to pull it off is anybody’s guess, but hey, as a Yankee fan I’m not about to criticize any team that opts to add a significant amount of salary. If you’ve got the dough, why not use it, right?
The real question is whether or not it will make much of a difference. On paper, the answer is an obvious yes, but a year ago we were talking about the Marlins as a legit division contender and look what happened there. And in such a stacked division, the road to the postseason won’t be easy for Toronto. The Yankees are the Yankees, the Rays aren’t going away anytime soon, the Orioles look to be for real and I’ll never count out the Red Sox.
Alright, enough of this “real” baseball stuff. From a fantasy angle, what does the trade mean for the group of players heading north of the border?
If anything, I think Reyes’ fantasy value goes up. As a career National Leaguer, he might need some time to adjust to the Junior circuit (See Albert Pujols). But a fine supporting cast headlined by Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie will put him in prime position to easily surpass the 100-run plateau. And don’t forget that he’ll be playing in a hitter-friendly park for the first time in his career. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a run at 20 homers. To me, Reyes is the #1 fantasy shortstop entering 2013 drafts, even ahead of Hanley Ramirez.
As for Johnson and Buehrle, I’m not a fan of investing in starting pitchers who are making the move from the NL to the AL, but this applies more to Johnson since Buehrle spent his entire career in the AL prior to 2012. The veteran lefty remains a decent back end of the rotation mixed leaguer but he’s not exactly someone I’ll be targeting. I have a feeling the AL East won’t be too kind to him. It was nice to see Johnson turn in a fully healthy season last year after he was limited to just nine starts in 2011, but his overall numbers were far from elite. He was good but not great, and I’m concerned about him pitching in the AL East. Some guys handle the transition well. For others, it could be a disaster. I don’t see Johnson completely falling off a cliff, but paying an ace-level price for him on draft day is probably asking for trouble.
Bonifacio is worth a late-round pick in mixed leagues for the stolen bases but it’s unclear if he’ll be an everyday player for Toronto. Either way, Emilio should get enough at-bats to make a meaningful contribution in deeper mixed leagues, even though he’s fairly one-dimensional. Buck has some pop but he’s an AVG killer and should be avoided outside of AL-only leagues, even if the Jays decide to trade J.P. Arencibia and use Buck as their primary catcher.
On paper, the Blue Jays are set to embark on their most successful season since the one that ended with a Joe Carter walk-off home run.