Ferguson: Jays now in conversation to win AL title

Scott Ferguson
11/14/2012 12:14:10 PM
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Welcome back to the Majors, Blue Jays. We've missed you.

In one fell swoop, Alex Anthopolous sent shockwaves through the entire baseball world that registered at least 9.2 or 9.3 on the Richter scale.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos pulled off one of the most astounding trades in baseball history and, arguably at this point, the second biggest in franchise history.
Because there is cash involved, Commissioner Bud Selig still has to sign off on this monster swap, but that seems to be merely a formality in the wake of the cash dump deal the Boston Red Sox made with the Los Angeles Dodgers this summer.
Barring any last-minute adjustments, it's a 12-player deal. The Blue Jays get the Marlins' electrifying shortstop Jose Reyes, lefty Mark Buerhrle, righthander Josh Johnson, outfielder/infielder Emilio Bonafacio and catcher John Buck, who was an All-Star with the Jays in a brief previous stint and socked 20 homers.
The Jays didn't totally fleece the Marlins but the bulk of what they gave up was futures. Going to Miami are shortstop Yunel Escobar, shortstop  Adeiny Hetchavarria, righthander Henderson Alvarez, one of their top pitching prospects in lefty Justin Nicolino, top outfield prospect Jake Marisnick, veteran catcher Jeff Mathis and pitching prospect Anthony DeSclafani, who went 11-3 this season at Lansing in the Midwest League, the same league where Nicolino was voted Pitcher of the Year.
After years of getting ripped for not spending the kind of money it takes to contend in the AL East, the Blue Jays have now bumped their payroll to roughly $120 million for next season.
Buerhle is a rock and a leader who's pitched at least 200 innings in 12 straight seasons. He should be the starter opening day at Rogers Centre against Cleveland. Josh Johnson was plagued by shoulder inflammation in 2011, but rebounded nicely in the second half of last season and rekindled memories of when he was one of the most intimidating and hard throwing righthanders in the game. He or Brandon Morrow could be the #2 starter, with the other dropping to #4. Lefty Ricky Romero would be the #3 man and you'd likely have another southpaw J.A. Happ at the #5 slot.
The bullpen is set as is practically every other position on the club. The Jays may yet deal for a left fielder, if they choose to groom Anthony Gose for a while longer at Triple 'A' Buffalo.
The arrival of Reyes and Bonafacio gives the Blue Jays even more speed with which to create runs and pressure opponent's pitchers. The top four in the line-up now figures to be Reyes leading off followed by Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Now that John Buck is back in the fold, the Jays have the depth behind the plate to move J.P Arencibia if they feel a need to. Bonafacio has played a bit of second base, but not a lot. He might get a crack at left field or could turn into a super-sub.
You can't definitively say that the Blue Jays are the class of the American League, but they are certainly now in the conversation.
The Blue Jays and the Marlins were both coming off hugely disappointing seasons. The Jays responded by trying to build something and raise the organization to another level. Miami went in the totally opposite direction.
They only have seven players left from their opening day roster in 2012, and another pitcher, Ricky Nolasco who's due to make $11.5 million in 2013 is said to be on the way out of town as well. The Marlins' opening day payroll for last season was $112 million. Now they're down to somewhere between $16 and $20 million.
The Marlins 72-year-old owner Jeffrey Loria promised a competitive team, after getting his largely publicly funded new stadium (80% or so). Now after the gutting of his franchise, he is the most vilified person in the state of Florida.
Miami drew over 2.2 million fans to their new home this season. However, that was the smallest total attendance for a new stadium in its first year in 20 years.
Loria should sell the team. Marlins fans had to live through previous fire sales in 1998 and 2005. This could be their breaking point.
For the Jays, this could be a rebirth of a franchise that hasn't made the post-season in 19 years. And if this trade is a springboard to another World Series title, it could almost match the swap that brought Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter over from San Diego for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff.
That deal netted the Jays three division titles and two World Series victories with Alomar ending up in the Hall of Fame. This trade has that special kind of feel to it. Now the Jays don't have to wait for the Yankees to stumble or hope the Red Sox will be as inept as they were in 2012. They can contend for the American League East on their own merits.

A long-time member of the baseball beat, Scott Ferguson covers the Blue Jays for TSN Radio 1050 in Toronto. His baseball blog appears on

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