When the Toronto Blue Jays’ blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins becomes official, likely sometime on Thursday, there will be a new wave of coverage, reaction and analysis, and as they did when news of the 12-player mega-deal came out on Tuesday evening, people will compare it to the famous Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar deal that Pat Gillick made with the San Diego Padres in December 1990.
And they’ll be wrong. This one is way bigger.
The Alomar deal turned out to be massive, leading almost directly to the Blue Jays finally getting over the hump and winning a pair of World Series, but at the time it was greeted with plenty of head-scratching from the Blue Jays faithful.
I know a lot of current Jays fans were somewhere between being a zygote and a four-year-old in the winter of 1990, so they don’t have any real memory of those days, but back then the reaction to the trade among Blue Jays fans was most commonly: “They traded McGriff and Fernandez for Joe Carter and who?”
It was seen as an interesting and unique move, a talent-for-talent trade designed to change the make-up and culture of the team. There was a thought, however ludicrous, that one of the reasons the Blue Jays had come close but never pushed through to win a playoff series was that some of the leadership on the team was too passive, and even that Fernandez’s Bible-thumping ways led him to accept defeat too easily.
Remember as well that the 1990 season was the fifth year out of six, and fourth in a row, in which the Blue Jays had finished no more than two games out of first place in the AL East, a run that included a pair of division titles.
This wasn’t a team that was looking to rebound from posting a winning record only once in four seasons, coming off an 89-loss year, it was one that was looking for one of the final pieces to the puzzle. And that trade was hardly seen as an overwhelming win for the Blue Jays.
McGriff and Fernandez were much-loved players in Toronto. In 1989, McGriff won the home run title (and led the majors in OPS, though nobody noticed) and Fernandez picked up his fourth straight Gold Glove, while Carter hit .232 with a .681 OPS in his lone season as a Padre — both career lows (albeit with 115 RBIs!) and Alomar was a 21-year-old relatively unknown star-in-the-making coming off a breakout season, his second in the big leagues.
Almost no Blue Jays fan — and there were a ton of rabid ones in those days — had heard of Roberto Alomar.
As I said, it turned out to be a phenomenal trade, but it wasn’t future-for-present, it wasn’t a huge raise in payroll — the Jays took on just over $300,000 as far as 1989 salaries were concerned — it wasn’t a move that at the time was franchise altering and, for the general manager, legacy defining. It wound up that way, of course, but this pending trade already is.
In the pending deal with the Marlins, Alex Anthopoulos has finally laid his cards on the table.
A trade like this is exactly why Anthopoulos had been hoarding draft picks for years, pulling in as many Type B free agents as he could find, holding onto them through trade deadlines and them letting them walk. The more good, young players you have, the more assets you have that other people want, and that’s why the Blue Jays were able to assemble the package that not only blew the Red Sox’s offer away, as was reported in Boston, but that also allowed them to keep most of their best young players.
The Blue Jays didn’t move their top prospect, Travis d’Arnaud, in this deal. They moved their second-best outfield prospect, Jake Marisnick, and kept Anthony Gose. They traded the most polished member of The Lansing 3 in Justin Nicolino, but kept the ones with higher ceilings in Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez.
Could some of the young players wind up becoming stars in South Beach? Absolutely. I have always held Henderson Alvarez in very high regard and continue to think he’s going to be great someday. Adeiny Hechavarria could wind up being the total package if he can hit and either or both Nicolino and Marisnick could reach their ceilings and be great.
But none of them are going to be as good as Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes already are, and Nicolino’s ceiling could well be Mark Buehrle. The Blue Jays just traded a bunch of might-bes, could-bes and should-bes for a bunch of ares. And you make a trade like that 110 times out of 100.
How many Jays fans wander the streets aimlessly, lamenting the fact that their team once traded likely Hall of Famer Jeff Kent for David Cone? Exactly. Flags fly forever, and the Blue Jays have given themselves a terrific shot at capturing another one of those in the near future.
By adding Johnson, a legitimate ace, Buehrle, a workhorse who is here to be the team’s fourth starter and all-star shortstop Reyes, the Blue Jays have filled their two most pressing needs and made a huge improvement to the top of the order. Not to mention 27-year-old Emilio Bonifacio and his .370 OBP against right-handed pitching in a 2012 in which he stole 30 bases in 33 attempts in less than half a season’s worth of plate appearances.
With one trade, the Blue Jays have transformed themselves from an 89-loss team full of holes to one that should be a legitimate threat to win the AL East — and that’s with three months of off-season left to tweak. With all due respect to the Alomar-Carter deal, this is the biggest trade in franchise history.
And while I’ve got you — now that Reyes is here, is there any reason not to take the cue from Tropicana Field and install a dirt infield at Rogers Centre? I understand that as long as it’s a multi-purpose facility, natural grass isn’t a real option (besides, they’d have to tear out the floor to install a drainage system and figure out how to grow grass indoors — hydroponics!!), but I can’t see how it would be a problem to put in a dirt infield – or maybe better said, dirt basepaths. It could be covered up by sheets of turf when the Argos play, and it would be a great help to the guy with bad legs who is going to be making $96 million to play shortstop for the Blue Jays for the next five years.