Blue Jays make big gains at low cost

The Blue Jays-Marlins trade, pending physicals, is a five-for-seven swap that sees the Jays getting Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck in exchange for prospects Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani and big leaguers Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis, Yunel Escobar and Adeiny Hechavarria. It's a huge deal in numbers and in its potential to impact the standings of two divisions in 2013, with the Jays poised to be the most relevant they've been in 20 years while the Marlins live down to the reputation the franchise acquired in 1997-98 and has deserved ever since.

The Blue Jays get a lot of impact talent in this deal, making them contenders (at least for the moment) in 2013 without substantially damaging their chances to contend in future years. Johnson is an ace when healthy, which he seldom is; he finished the year looking strong, back to 93-97 with a plus curveball and above-average slider again, and if he looks like that all year he could be worth 5 wins above replacement to a Jays team that hasn't had that guy since it traded Roy Halladay.

Johnson tops the rotation ahead of Brandon Morrow, behind whom the Jays will slot Buehrle, a reliable innings-eater who reached 200 innings for the 12th straight season, but whose below-average fastball isn't an ideal fit for Toronto's homer-friendly home park. Even if he dips to just below league-average, the Jays desperately need the innings he'll provide, given the elbow plague that infected their rotation in 2012. If Johnson is healthy and Ricky Romero gets back to his old form, this will be one of the league's best rotations in 2013, although the probability of both of those things happening in one calendar year is not that high.

Reyes becomes the Jays' everyday shortstop, the best one they've had since Tony Fernandez left after the 1999 season. His 2011 walk year was built on a batting average he wasn't likely to see again, but the remainder of his skill set -- average defense at short, above-average running, good plate coverage, modest pop -- remains intact, and at shortstop that's going to be worth 4 to 6 wins over replacement, and a quick upgrade of about 3 over what the Jays got out of shortstop this past season.

They'll also get value from having Bonifacio as a supersub, a plus runner who can play six spots on the diamond, five of them well enough to handle on a part-time basis. Buck is a $6 million backup catcher, adding to Toronto's pile of catching while the Marlins get to dump a contract that was dumb the day that they gave it to him and looks just as bad now. He might be headed on to a third team, or could make it easier for the Jays to deal J.P. Arencibia and make room for catcher-of-the-future Travis d'Arnaud.

The lone negative for Jays fans is that the team has acquired a substantial amount of money owed, with Buehrle and Reyes both under contract beyond this year and possibly limiting the team's ability to make further moves this offseason or next. Buehrle is the biggest risk of the three major names coming back to fail to produce up to the level of his salary, although he happens to give the club the healthy/durable starter it desperately needed and might have had to overpay to get in free agency.

I'd offer my condolences to the Marlins' fans if only I could find them. Of all the players Miami got in return, only two stand out as guys the Blue Jays might someday miss, outfielder Marisnick and left-hander Nicolino.

Marisnick was the highest-rated Jays prospect coming into the 2012 season and had a solid first half in high Class A before struggling with his approach after a midseason promotion to Double-A. The tools are still there -- above-average runner, above-average arm, plenty of range for center, more raw power than in-game -- but that approach is becoming a greater concern as he gets older and it doesn't improve, especially when he's beatable both on breaking stuff and on hard stuff up or in. I also worry about the power not playing in games because he has virtually no load, so he doesn't get extended well enough before making contact, although that's something that could be tweaked. He's a strong prospect, but not as exciting as he looked 10 months ago.

Nicolino's stat line is a little misleading, as he's not a power pitcher but a finesse left-hander with an average fastball that touches 93 mph and a plus changeup. He can flat-out pitch, with poise and approach that belie his age, and an easy, repeatable delivery. He may not miss as many bats as he moves up the ladder and doesn't offer any projection, but lefties with feel and a good change can pitch toward the middle of a rotation for a long time.

Henderson Alvarez had a plus fastball and plus changeup when he was coming up in the Jays' system, but the fastball has backed off a little and he has been unable to keep his changeup down in the zone, while he has never developed an average breaking ball, all of which has dropped his outlook from potential No. 2 starter to probable reliever. The Marlins can and should give Alvarez another year or so in the rotation to see if any of those issues resolves with experience or a new coaching staff, but as it stands now he doesn't miss enough bats to be a major league starter.

Anthony DeSclafani is definitely a reliever, where he'll touch 95 but needs to get more consistent tilt on his slider; he's a strike-thrower who did get to refine his off-speed stuff somewhat this year as a starter in low-A.

Jeff Mathis has a career .256 OBP in more than1,500 plate appearances and is probably best not discussed any further.

Yunel Escobar is probably better known for his bad makeup than he is for his on-field skills and has now run himself out of two cities; he doesn't walk or hit for power and his only offensive production in Toronto came at home in the first half of 2011, but he makes enough contact and adds value with his glove to make him a 2-win player.

Adeiny Hechavarria is a 70 defender at shortstop (on the 20-80 scouting scale) both in glove and arm, and is never going to hit -- but replacement level at short right now is low enough that he could be a 2-win player, although one of these two guys has to move off short. Both were born in Cuba and may, in theory, appeal to Cuban-American Marlins fans who aren't thoroughly disgusted by the way the team's owners are running the franchise back into the subterranean hole out of which they originally crawled.

Those limicolous owners are the greatest joke of all in this deal, rooking Florida taxpayers for a publicly funded stadium, only to make one half-hearted attempt to fill it with a contending team, then surrendering after the season to return to their old business model, playing a skeleton-crew lineup while pocketing all of their revenue-sharing money. This isn't a bad baseball deal for Miami; it's not a baseball deal at all -- it's a boondoggle, perpetrated by owners who have pulled one stunt like this after another, with the implicit approval of the commissioner's office. It's time for baseball to rid itself of Jeff Loria and David Samson by any means possible. Miami, the state of Florida, and the sport in general will be better off without them.