Blue Jays poised to mix it up with East powers
The Toronto Blue Jays have given themselves a really nifty gift. It's the kind of gift that can keep on giving: the gift of genuine contender status.
The blockbuster 12-player trade between the Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins received the approval on Monday of Commissioner Bud Selig. The deal had made portions of the Marlins' fan base furious, but it ought to create pre-Christmas tidings of baseball comfort and joy in the province of Ontario.
"After a thorough examination of this information, it is my conclusion that this transaction, involving established Major Leaguers and highly regarded young players and prospects, represents the exercise of plausible baseball judgment on the part of both Clubs, does not violate any express rule of Major League Baseball and does not otherwise warrant the exercise of any of my powers to prevent its completion," Selig said in a statement. "It is, of course, up to the Clubs involved to make the case to their respective fans that this transaction makes sense and enhances the competitive position of each, now or in the future.
"I am sensitive to the concerns of the fans of Miami regarding this trade, and I understand the reactions I have heard since Tuesday. Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities and I fully understand that the Miami community has done its part to put the Marlins into a position to succeed with beautiful new Marlins Park. Going forward, I will continue to monitor this situation with the expectation that the Marlins will take into account the sentiments of their fans, who deserve the best efforts and considered judgment of their Club. I have received assurances from the ownership of the Marlins that they share these beliefs and are fully committed to build a long-term winning team that their fans can be proud of."
The Toronto fans didn't require the reassurance of the Commissioner in regard to this deal. Their club was the one receiving the proven talent.
The Blue Jays, in exchange for seven players including talented prospects, get legitimate front-line talent. This includes shortstop Jose Reyes, still young enough to be an impact top-of-the-order presence. Emilio Bonifacio, who can play the infield or the outfield, brings additional speed to the Toronto offense. His playing time was curtailed by injury in 2012, but when he played, he ran successfully, stealing 30 bases in 33 attempts.
Potentially better still, there is starting pitcher Josh Johnson. If his health can be maintained, his stuff is absolutely top-shelf. And there is veteran lefty Mark Buehrle, whose work can fairly be described as ultra-reliable. With his craft and command, there is no reason that Buehrle cannot continue to eat up innings and maintain the effectiveness that has characterized his career.
Perhaps the Blue Jays were fortunate to find the Marlins in rebuilding mode, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the Toronto organization acted boldly to make the Marlins a trading partner. Chances to take great leaps forward such as this one don't come along all that often. When this opportunity knocked, the Blue Jays were home and completely hospitable.
The Blue Jays were thought of as contenders last season, too, but they were decimated by injuries. They lost three members of their rotation and four members of the starting lineup to injury.
But now, they have added both quality and quantity to their rotation, giving them significantly better depth in this most crucial area. And they have dramatically improved their situation at the most important defensive position in the infield. Reyes, a dynamic player when healthy, should be a boost to the offensive side as well. Getting all this substantive, proven talent without giving up a lot of proven talent in return is a truly large deal. The other acquisition the Blue Jays are working on comes with built-in questions.
Toronto is reportedly close to a two-year, $16 million deal with outfielder Melky Cabrera. Cabrera, most recently employed by the San Francisco Giants, was given a 50-game suspension after he tested positive for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone.
Cabrera was eligible to return to the Giants for the National League Championship Series. But the Giants, on their way to a World Series championship, decided not to activate him. Their decision to move beyond Cabrera and attempt to win without him could be seen as the most fitting commentary of all on his actions.
There is no doubt that Cabrera was impressive in 2012. His .346 average would have won the NL batting title, although he was gracious enough to take himself out of the running for the title, a position with which Major League Baseball happily found agreement. He was also the Most Valuable Player for the winning NL team in the All-Star Game.
The first five years of Cabrera's career did not resemble the last two. It is possible that he matured into his recent productivity. But the concern would be that the last two seasons were more a result of the use of a performance-enhancing substance.
The Blue Jays obviously believe that the former is the case. No matter what happens in regard to Cabrera, the Blue Jays have taken major steps forward.
This will make the American League East an even tougher neighborhood than usual. There are four legitimate contenders. The Yankees, despite their offensive swoon against Detroit in the AL Championship Series, are still loaded with talent. The Orioles demonstrated their ability by qualifying for the postseason in 2012, and they still have room to grow. The Rays have some of the best pitching in the game.
And now the Blue Jays have fortified their already impressive talent base. Assuming something resembling reasonably good health in 2013, this is a club with real reasons to consider itself on the very edge of elite status.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.