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Trade Retrospective: Marlins trade Mark Buehrle, José Reyes, Josh Johnson, and others to the Blue Jays in salary dump

The year after fleecing taxpayers for a new stadium and pretending to go all-in, the Marlins continued to disgrace themselves and the game.

Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Jason Arnold/Getty Images

For the third straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

That tweet just as easily could have been from this past offseason, but as you can see from the timestamp, Giancarlo Stanton tweeted that out over five years ago when the Marlins executed the biggest move in their latest firesale.

After a disastrous first season in the taxpayer funded Marlins Park, the team traded away Mark Buehrle, José Reyes, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto. In exchange, the Marlins received Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarría, Henderson Álvarez, and Jeff Mathis. To keep up the appearances that this was not purely a salary dump — because that is exactly what it was — they received prospects in Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, and Jake Marisnick from the Blue Jays.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Marlins started off their firesale at the trade deadline. They traded Omar Infante and Aníbal Sánchez to the Tigers, and shortly after, traded Hanley Ramírez to the Dodgers. They sent their high priced reliever in Heath Bell to the Diamondbacks in October 2012. Bell had a 5.37 RA9 in his first and only year with the team, so at least with that trade the Marlins were salvaging a bad signing.

In a season that stirred up excitement thanks to some strong acquisitions and a new stadium, the Marlins finished with a dismal record of 69-93. Believe it or not, their half-hearted attempt to deceive fans that they actually cared about them or the baseball team did not work to actually make the team good. The big free agent signings that brought Mark Buehrle, José Reyes, and Heath Bell to Miami did a lot to create buzz, but it was not enough to make a team that had won only 72 games the year before competitive. It was all for show.

As mentioned, Bell was a disaster, but Reyes and Buehrle played well, as did incumbent Josh Johnson. Reyes hit .287/.347/.433 with 40 stolen bases against 11 times caught. He was a poor fielder, though, so he only accumulated 3.0 bWAR despite being a shortstop with an above average bat. Buehrle had a 3.91 RA9, 4.8 BB%, and 4.2 bWAR. He has always been an anomalous pitcher, making up for his poor strikeout rates and velocity with his excellent defense and ability to control the run game. Johnson had a 3.95 RA9 and 3.9 bWAR.

Bonifacio never really hit other than in 2011 when he had a .372 BABIP. He was a useful utility player who still had two years left on his rookie contract. Buck had one year and $6.5 million left on an ill advised three-year, $18 million deal. He was a subpar catcher both offensively and defensively who got the deal thanks to a flukish career year before hitting free agency. In his two years in Miami he hit only .213/.308/.358, and was worth a total of just 1.1 WARP.

The Blue Jays were coming off a fourth place finish for the fifth year in a row. GM Alex Anthopoulos was understandably tired of the lack of success. They had an excellent farm system, ranked second in MLB by Baseball Prospectus, and third by ESPN’s Keith Law. The great thing about this trade is that he accomplished it by minimizing the cost in talent. Marisnick and Nicolino ranked 71st and 73rd, respectively, in Baseball Prospectus’s 2013 prospect rankings. Top-100 prospect talents have significant value, but theses players were not going to make or break the Blue Jays’ future. Marisnick especially had seen his stock fall in the year leading up to his trade.

Anthopoulos pulled off this trade by leveraging the only thing that Jeffrey Loria has ever cared about: money. The Blue Jays took on about $160 million in future salary obligations. Reyes and Buehrle were denied no-trade clauses because they were “against organizational policy,” and the deals were heavily backloaded....almost as if Loria expected to be trading away these guys all along.

Even with his defensive deficiencies, Reyes was a clear upgrade at shortstop over Escobar and Hechavarría, both of whom combined for a 72 wRC+ in 2012. Buehrle and Johnson were much needed upgrades on a poor rotation that combined for a 5.12 RA9 in 2012. Buck and Bonifacio were throw-ins. Buck seemed superfluous with Travis d’Arnaud expected to make his major league debut in 2013. That potential problem resolved itself in more than one way later that winter.

The Marlins got a bunch of major leaguers that the Blue Jays did not need anymore, and quite frankly, the Marlins did not need either. Marisnick and Nicolino were good prospects, but a team serious about rebuilding would have eaten most of the salaries in order to receive top-tier, impact prospects.

Despite the fact that one could argue that this was an even trade in terms of value, Loria is likely the only person who would have agreed to it. The exchange in talent arguably made the team’s future worse.

One might wonder how this is so different from what the Red Sox did. There are definitely some important differences.

  • The Red Sox saved ~$100 million more in salary than the Marlins.
  • Adrián González was still good, but Josh Beckett’s deal was looking like an albatross, and Carl Crawford’s deal looked even worse. I do not believe that any reasonable person could conclude that the contracts of Reyes or Buehrle would end up that badly.
  • The Red Sox have a great reputation for caring about the quality of the baseball team and putting money into it. Loria had the opposite reputation. There was no reason to believe that Loria would do anything but pocket most or all of the money he was saving.

Finally, Loria is the one who bilked taxpayers out of $500 million in order to build a stadium he was more than capable of completely paying for himself. This trade was nothing more than the completion of a long con by a man with a long history of it.

The Results

The upgraded Blue Jays roster only managed 74 wins in 2013, only one more than the year before. Reyes was more or less the same player he was in 2012. Buehrle regressed, but was still an average pitcher.

Johnson, sadly, had a disastrous 2013. He struggled with injury and posted a 7.08 RA9 in only 16 starts. He had a -2.2 bWAR season! The timing for such a poor season could not have been worse, because he went into free agency that off-season. He signed a one-year deal with the Padres, but never pitched for them due to a second Tommy John surgery. He missed all of 2015 too due to injury, and then he needed a third Tommy John surgery. He attempted a comeback with the Giants for the 2017 season, but he was unsuccessful. He retired in January of last year.

The Blue Jays improved to 83 wins in 2014, but did not make the playoffs until 2015 when they finished in first place with 93 wins. However, Reyes and Buehrle were not major contributors to that success. Reyes had become a below average player who desperately needed to be moved off of shortstop. He was traded to the Rockies close to the 2015 trade deadline as part of the Troy Tulowitzki trade. The Jays were actually able to get the Rockies to take on the remaining salary of his deal. Since then, the Mets kept signing him back even though he has been a replacement level player.

Buehrle’s run of enjoyable but baffling level of success came to an end in 2015. He was not terrible, but he had a 4.53 RA9 and a paltry 11 K%. The Blue Jays chose not to play him in the playoffs. He quietly slipped into retirement.

Buck never played for the Blue Jays. They traded him to the Mets as part of the R.A. Dickey trade. Bonifacio played for the Jays through August 2014 when he was traded to the Royals for cash and a PTBNL.

Unsurprisingly, none of the major leaguers that the Marlins acquired panned out.

Hechavarría spent over four years in Miami before getting traded to the Rays last year, but he never hit. Mathis also spent four years in Miami as an excellent defensive catcher, but he was even worse with a bat than Hechavarría. He has been one of the worst hitters in major league history. Escobar never even played a game for the Marlins. He was traded to the Rays less than a month after his acquisition.

Álvarez showed some promise. He threw a no-hitter on the last day of the 2013 season, and became their Opening Day starter in 2015, the year after posting a 3.13 RA9. He always had great control, but his strikeout rates were always among the league’s worst. He missed most of 2015 due to shoulder surgery, and was then cut by the Marlins. He signed with the A’s but missed the season again because of another shoulder surgery. He spent some time in the Atlantic League in 2017 before making three starts with the Phillies. He only gave up seven runs over those three starts, but he had terrible control problems. He walked eleven and struck out only six. He is currently in the Mexican League.

Marisnick only played in 54 games for the Marlins over a span of a season and a half. He never hit, so he was traded to the Astros at the 2014 trade deadline. He continued to hit poorly in his first two years in Houston, hitting only .224/.270/.359. He got by on the strength of his excellent outfield defense. In 2017, he became one of the adopters of the flyball revolution, boosting his flyball rate to about 48 percent as opposed to 35.5 percent the year before. He hit .243/.319/.496 with 16 HR over 259 PA. Unfortunately, he was not able to participate in the Astros’ championship playoff run due to injury.

Nicolino made his major league debut in 2015. Over three seasons, he spent time between the majors and minors. He had a 4.96 RA9, and like Álvarez, suffered from paltry strikeout rates. The Reds recently claimed him off waivers and he is currently in the minors.

DeSclafani debuted in 2014 to the tune of a 6.27 RA9 in only 33 IP. He was traded to the Reds before the 2015 season and actually performed quite well. He had a 4.53 RA9 and 1.4 bWAR, and then improved to a 3.72 RA9 and 2.9 bWAR in 2016. He did miss some time that season due to injury. He missed all of 2017 due mostly to a sprained UCL in his elbow. He actually did not have Tommy John surgery, instead choosing to rehab it. He is currently on the 60-day DL with a strained left oblique.

It has been reported that the Marlins could have chosen Aaron Sánchez or Noah Syndergaard. Oops. Of course, no one at the time was predicting them to become the pitchers that they are.

Blue Jays Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
José Reyes 5 6.2 $96.0
Mark Buehrle 3 7 $48.0
Josh Johnson 1 -2.2 $13.8
John Buck 1 0 $0.0
Emilio Bonifacio 2 0.1 $1.9
Total 12 11.1 $159.7
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

The table does not include the money that the Rockies took on because it was not known at the time that it would happen. Factoring in the $46 million saved there, this is a fair amount of production for what they paid. The real killer was Johnson, but there was no way to predict that would happen. Unfortunately, this trade did not impact breaking their streak of missing the postseason. On the bright side, all it really cost the Jays was money.

Marlins Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Adeiny Hechavarría 6 2.2 $10.5
Henderson Álvarez 5 0.7 $5.0
Jeff Mathis 3 -0.3 $4.5
Yunel Escobar 1 3 $0.0
Anthony DeSclafani 6 -0.5 $0.5
Justin Nicolino 6 -0.3 $0.7
Jake Marisnick 6 0 $0.5
Total 33 4.8 $21.7
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

You know what? Who cares. This table doesn’t matter.

It is ironic that the Blue Jays made the better baseball move, they were the only ones making a good faith attempt to do what was best for their organization, yet it is Loria who got exactly what he wanted. And what’s worse, he has never gotten his comeuppance.

Loria originally bought the team for $158.5 million, and sold it for $1.2 billion. Despite being contractually obligated to share profits of that sale with Miami-Dade county, he does not intend to do so.

There is no happy ending here. Loria used the Marlins as his personal ATM since 2002, and MLB did nothing about it. The league deals out draconian penalties for anabolic steroids to, as they put it, ‘protect the integrity of the game’, yet do nothing when an owner spends 15 years making a mockery of the sport.

Loria will go down as one of the most hated men in baseball history. It is well deserved. But he was constantly enabled by a man who had the power to stop him at any time and chose not to do so, a man who did more to damage the game of baseball than perhaps any other person in history: Hall of Famer Allan “Bud” Selig.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.