First, a brief summation of the deal: the Marlins sent (SS) Jose Reyes, (RHP) Josh Johnson, (LHP) Mark Buehrle, (OF / MI) Emilio Bonifacio, and ( C ) John Buck to the Blue Jays in exchange for (SS) Yunel Escobar, (SS) Adeiny Hechavarria, (RHP) Henderson Alvarez, ( C ) Jeff Mathis, (OF) Jake Marisnick, (LHP) Justin Nicolino, and (RHP) Anthony DeSclafani.
So, a few things seem safe to speculate upon. First, the Marlins wanted to shed payroll. Reyes is owed $96m over the next 5 years, Josh Johnson is owed $13.75m next season, Buehrle is owed $48m over the next 3 years, and Buck is owed $6m next year as a back-up Catcher. Bonifacio made $2.2m last year in his first year of arbitration.
The O's would, at first blush, seem capable of absorbing each of those contracts. A successful 2012 season that drew over 2m spectators and resulted in an ALDS appearance certainly swelled the coffers somewhat. And it would seem logical to forecast at least a minor to medium bump in attendance following such a successful year. Add on the additional revenue (roughly $20m per team per year is the estimate I've seen) coming from the new national television contract that goes into effect in 2014, and it would seem the O's payroll could afford to inflate their payroll in the years to come. The Warehouse has maintained a payroll in the low-$80m range for the past 3 seasons, but did manage to float a $93.5m Opening Day payroll in 2007, so there is precedence for the club to afford a higher payroll than they do currently. 2013 payroll commitments currently stand at roughly $46m, but arb. awards could nearly double that. Adding the quintuplet from Miami would bring with it an additional $40.75m in guaranteed contracts, with Bonifacio likely earning something in the neighborhood of $4m in arbitration next season. So, you take the $46m baseline the O's currently have, add roughly $40m in arbitration awards to the players they currently have, and then add the roughly $45m the Marlins-now-Blue Jays players would have brought with them and the O's payroll, just for 2013, would have come in at or near $130m.
Now, that number could be brought down in a number of ways. The first question to ask is, would there be any significant contracts going from the O's to the Marlins? Uh, no. The Marlins are trying to dump salary, not trade salary commitments. They weren't going to take on Brian Roberts' $10m for 2013 or Nick Markakis' 2/$32m. Well, how about O's controlled arb. players; any saving to be had there? Yes. Of the arb. eligible players, 4 stand to earn significant awards: Jason Hammel (4th year), Mark Reynolds (3rd year), Jim Johnson (2nd year), and Matt Wieters(1st year). Now, none of them were likely to be included in any theoretical O's-Marlins deal, but savings could have been realized by A) letting Reynolds go to free agency and / or B) trading Jim Johnson in a separate deal. Letting Reynolds walk would save roughly $9-$10m; trading Old-Younger JJ, roughly $5m. Reynolds could be replaced at 1B by Chris Davis, Wilson Betemit (calm down Marylander), or even Nolan Reimold. Coming off a year where he earned not only Cy Young votes but also MVP votes (!), Old-Younger JJ could fetch a nice haul himself in the trade market and be replaced in the 'pen by any number of candidates. These moves could potentially bring the payroll down to a more palatable $115m or so. But that still seems like it would still be much too high for the club to reasonably maintain going forward.
A smaller deal, one that excluded either Reyes or Buehrle may have been much more feasible for the O's. But part of the appeal for the Marlins was almost certainly the opportunity to shed all of their long term contracts in one fell swoop. Though they could have probably netted a better return in terms of prospects in separate trades, there is value in one-stop shopping, so to speak.
Now, what about the talent that Toronto sent to Miami. Make no mistake, the Marlins didn't just shed salary and take on some scrubs in exchange. They received some significant young talent. But, could the O's have matched, or even exceeded it? Let's take a look.
The Marlins received 6 players in return. 3 are basically Major League ready (Escobar, Hechavarria, and Alvarez) and 3 (Marisnick, Nicolino, and DeSclafani) are prospects of varying degrees of polish and upside. Prior to the 2012 season Marisnick and Nicolino ranked #2 & #5 on many rankings on the Blue Jays farm system. A system that many also regarded as one of the deepest and most talented in all of Major League baseball. DeSclafani is sort of the runt of a foursome of young starting pitchers for the Jays' A ball squad (one of whom is also Nicolino), but he projects as a bullpen arm. So, what would the O's have likely had to of parted with to equal such a package?
Well, that's complicated. Escobar, after his adventures in eye-black last September, was persona non grata in Toronto. But he's still quite a talented player capable of playing SS, so there was some degree of value there in spite of his lack of 'makeup'. There isn't really a corollary player from the O's in terms of being a source of consternation. But in terms of a talented player who doesn't fit into the roster neatly, I guess one could squint and see the outlines of a Chris Davis. Davis could become the Marlins everyday 1Bman and provide a powerful left-handed compliment to young phenom Giancarlo Stanton. This would, however, require the O's to find a 1B solution. Reynolds could easily be brought back, but re-signing him would likely drive the payroll up.
Hechavarria is a very talented SS who can't hit a lick. He also ranked in the Jays' Top 10 prospects prior to 2012. A imilar player, though in a sort of converse way, is Jonathan Schoop. Schoop will almost certainly be able to hit, the question is, where will he play? Scouts seem to think he's not capable of handling SS at the ML level, but 2B or 3B are definitely reasonable options for him. And they are both positions the Marlins don't have long-term answers for at the moment.
Henderson Alvarez was rushed into action with the Jays this year after their the bulk of their staff went down to injury in a two week span. He certainly wasn't major league ready, but as a man with an arm attached to his torso, he was as good an option as any to take the ball every 5th day. He's got a good arm and projects as a mid to back of the rotation starter. Zach Britton seems to be the obvious analogy for the O's.
Jeff Mathis, once the apple of Mike Scioscia's eye, is a defense-only Catcher who had just signed a 2 year / $3 million extension back in August. With the Marlins trading John Buck they created a need for a capable major league ready back-up Catcher. Mathis fills that role in the Blue Jays deal and Taylor Teagarden could fill the role adequately in a theoretical O's trade. And though Teagarden is not on Mathis' level defensively, he'll be less expensive and brings 3 years of club control.
Jake Marisnick is a toolsy OFer with concerns over how much he'll be able to hit at the major league level. As the Marlins have another, better, prospect named Christian Yelich being groomed for future center field duties, Marisnick will most likely be moved to a corner outfield position. Though not as talented, either L.J. Hoes or Xavier Avery could fit the bill here. Hoes should be able to hit at the major league level, while XAvery offers the dream of higher upside than Mr. Hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooes. This is certainly where the two offers digress to the greatest degree, in my opinion, and the O's would have to make up for that in other parts of the deal.
Justin Nicolino is still a year or two away from the majors. But he's a lefty starter with mid-to-#2 rotation stuff. Eduardo Rodriguez would have been a suitable alternative for the O's here. A 6'2", 19 year old LHP out of Venezuela, he's impressed with his low 90's sinking fastball and sharp breaking ball. Look for this kid to get some shine in 2013 as he makes his way to Class-A Frederick, and possibly up to Bowie at some point.
Anthony Deslafani (22 years old) had a very good year at High A Lansing in his first year of pro ball, with a 6.7 K/9 and a 0.2 HR/9 over 123 IP. But scouts seem to be of the opinion that he will end up in the bullpen by the time he reaches the majors. Tyler Wilson would have been a good alternative for the O's to offer. A 22 year old out of the University of Virginia, he sported a 9.2 K/9, a 6.0 K/BB ratio, and a 1.0 HR/9 rate over 111 IP at High A Frederick.
So it seems the O's could have made a very competitive offer as compared to the Jays, though I'm not certain they could match the high upside of the Marisnick-Nicolino duo. Chris Davis, Jonathan Schoop, Zach Britton, Taylor Teagarden, LJ Hoes / XAvery, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Tyler Wilson matches up well, pound-for-proverbial-pound, with the group the Jays sent packing to Miami. Maybe throw in an additional upside arm such as Clay Schrader or Parker Bridwell if necessary in order to put the O's over the top.
While the O's probably could have matched the Jays' offer in terms of prospects (though it would have been far more detrimental to the O's farm system than it was to the Jays') but the monetary commitment required for the O's to shoulder could very well have been to large a burden to bear. An additional stumbling block could have been in the precise structure of the players going from the O's to the Marlins. If part of the goal for Miami was to shed Reyes' contract, they would have a need for immediate middle infield help. The O's don't particularly match up well with the Marlins in this regard with their current crop of middle infielders. But a streamlined deal involving only 2 or 3 of the players eventually traded to Toronto would certainly have been an avenue worth exploring for the O's. Such a deal could have solidified the rotation by giving the O's a legit Ace (if healthy) in Josh Johnson for the 2013 season and / or a solid #3 or #4 starter in Mark Buehrle. A Johnson-Hammel-Chen-Buehrle-Tillman rotation would seem to stack up right behind the Rays for best in the A.L. East. And that still leaves MiGo, Spawn of Dave, Arrieta, Matusz, and Bundy (!) in reserve. Holy smokes! If the O's were to have had to part w/ Davis as part of the trade a platoon of Betemit-Reimold at 1B was a possibility, or just bring back Wrapper on a 1 year deal. The losses of Britton, E. Rod, and / or Tyler Wilson could be overcome in the long term with other players such as Kevin Gausman or Bobby Bundy coming along. And LJ / XAvery are spare parts for the O's currently.
In the end, there will be other potential deals to make for Dan Duquette and the O's. But it would seem as though this one would have been a really good opportunity for the O's to acquire some impact (and certainly expensive) talent by leveraging a payroll capable of being expanded, an assortment of good, young, cost-controlled players, and a farm system that has bounced back somewhat from the dire straits it was in a few short years ago. In addition, if the O's could have pounced on this deal before the Jays, it could have had the double impact of improving the O's while keeping the Jays from improving, an important piece of game theory to keep in mind.