Timing was right for Blue Jays to go for it in AL East

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

Because of the time it took for commissioner Bud Selig to approve the deal, we've had almost a week to digest the huge Blue Jays-Marlins trade that became official Monday afternoon.

We've had time to rip the Marlins ownership, time to praise the Blue Jays for finally acting like the big-market team they should be. We've had time to listen to Jeffrey Loria's explanation, time for the Blue Jays to sign Melky Cabrera (and for the Marlins to sign Juan Pierre), time for everything but a new Blue Jays manager.

So a week later, what still stands out?

1. Whether or not you believe the Blue Jays have made themselves into American League East favorites, this much is obvious: There's never been a better time for them to try.

The Yankees are operating under short-term, self-imposed spending limits. They say they'll get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold for 2014, and as a result they're staying away from big free agents who would require big long-term contracts. Plenty of rival executives are skeptical the Yankees will be able to hold themselves to the $189 million limit, but for now they're trying. And in any case, they're old. As one AL official said, "Of their key players, who other than Cano isn't already on the downside of his career?"

The Red Sox are coming off their worst season since the 1960s, and their big move was to trade away a bunch of bad contracts (while shedding some talent, and adding some payroll flexibility that may only help them marginally in a weak free-agent market).

The Rays are facing their usual payroll issues. Maybe they will keep both James Shields and David Price, but that would probably cost them around $20 million, which might be one-third of their total payroll. It's hard to see how they can afford to both keep their championship-level pitching together while also adding enough offense to take full advantage of it.

The Orioles broke through in 2012, but did so with a 29-9 record in one-run games (the best winning percentage in baseball history), and a 16-2 record in extra-inning games. Logic and history tell you that's not sustainable, which means the Orioles will need to get better this winter just to have a chance at the same results.

The real key here is the Yankees and Red Sox, because the whole idea that the East is a beast was based on the idea that those two huge-revenue teams could and would outspend everyone else. Now the Dodgers could pass the Yankees for the biggest payroll, and if the Red Sox aren't rebuilding, they're at least doing major fix-up work on their roster.

2. For all the (justified) complaints about what the Marlins just did, Loria was right when he told Jon Heyman, "We finished in last place. That's unacceptable."

Without the history of fire sales, the new taxpayer-funded stadium and all the mistrust the Marlins ownership has worked so hard to own, this trade wouldn't bother any of us nearly as much. Starting with a seriously underperforming last-place team, the Marlins just unloaded two contracts I was never sure they could get rid of (three, if you include the Heath Bell trade with the Diamondbacks).

Do you like the idea of paying Jose Reyes $22 million a year for years when he'll turn 32, 33 and 34? How about paying Mark Buehrle $18 million and $19 million for years when he'll be 35 and 36?

When the Marlins heavily backloaded the big contracts they gave out last winter, the biggest risk seemed to be that they'd never be able to get rid of them if they went bad. Well, they just got rid of them, and got some real (if young) talent in return.

If we trusted the Marlins -- if they had done anything to earn our trust -- we'd say they were setting themselves up to build a better team with contracts that made more sense.

But we don't trust them, and we don't expect future big free agents to trust them, either.

3. Since we don't trust the Marlins, it doesn't matter if they say now that they're not going to follow up this trade by dealing Ricky Nolasco and Giancarlo Stanton, as well.

Some people in baseball think they should (and not just rival execs who would love to get Stanton).

"They might as well go all the way now," one National League official said.

Stanton is just 23, and he's still four years away from free agency. But imagine how much "championship quality talent" (president Larry Beinfest's assessment of what they got in the Blue Jays trade) the Marlins could get for him now.

4. Even with Stanton and Nolasco, the Marlins figure to be even worse in 2013 than they were this year. That should be good news for teams they're playing.

With baseball's new schedule, as part of the realignment that came about when the Astros shifted to the American League, there's not as big a disparity in schedules. But there's still some.

Who benefits?

The biggest beneficiaries are the teams in the AL Central, who each have the Marlins on their schedule next year (which could help in a wild-card race). Also, the Rays play their "natural rivals" four times, the only four games the Marlins have against any team in the AL East.

 
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