No team in baseball was more disappointing than the NL East inhabiting Miami Marlins last season. The Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays made headlines with a blockbuster trade in the offseason, but are headed in very different directions. If I had to make a prediction (always a sure way to be wrong) I’d say the Marlins finish last in the NL East, while the Blue Jays win their division on the strength of their balanced roster.A year ago in Miami, expectations were high after acquiring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, and Carlos Zambrano. The Marlins opened a brand new stadium, swapped the “Florida” in their name in favor of “Miami” and made new (orange) uniforms. The Marlins season, however, came undone early and the Marlins did what they do best-blew it up. Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio were all traded away. One figures closer Heath Bell would have been gone if the Marlins could’ve found a taker. Although they were quick to pull the ripcord on the season, it was probably the right decision. By gutting their big league roster, the Marlins got some quality returns. Marlins fans have a right to be upset about how it all went down, but the reality is the Marlins were never going to be competitive with their core- so they trimmed payroll and traded away veteran talent like no other team before them. Part of their fire sale was simply dumping payroll, as they did cut $60 million in payroll in a season, but it pays dividends in the future to be bad. The fastest way to rebuild is to get very bad and stockpile high draft picks.Of course, rebuilding is nothing new to the usually cash-strapped Marlins. In fact their dismantling of the 1997 World Series Champion Marlins is the only fire sale in recent memory comparable to their latest one. And given their propensity to rebuild, they’re actually pretty good at it. The Marlins acquired exciting prospect Adieny Hechavarria and other young, cheap talent. The Marlins now lay claim to six of the top 100 prospects in baseball, according to recent MLB.com rankings, and are one of only two teams in the majors that have two top 10 prospects in baseball. Their former top prospect — pitcher Jose Fernandez made the huge jump from single-A ball to the majors and the early returns are very promising. In his first start, Fernandez baffled the Mets lineup through five innings, putting up eight strikeouts against one walk and only one run in 80 pitches of work. Fernandez’s lethal curveball has already earned a nickname from teammate Logan Morrison — “the defector”— a reference to the strife the Cuban born Fernandez had to endure just to get to the majors. But, most of Miami’s talent is still talent is still over a year away. Their top hitting prospect, outfielder Christian Yelich, projects as an impact talent but is yet to play an inning in Double-A. There will be growing pains, as only Fernandez will make an impact this season. The Marlins future is promising, but it’s a ways off.On the other side of the trade, the future is now. In direct contrast to the disgruntled Miami fan base, fans are excited north of the border. Under general manager Alex Anthopoulos the Blue Jays have always been active in the trade market. Since Anthopoulos took over in 2009, Toronto has trending in the right direction. They’ve been getting better by making smart trades and signings, with an eye towards the future. Under Anthopoulos’ regime, both Vernon Wells and Roy Halladay were shipped off while the Jays got younger without getting worse. But the problem was always the presence of three extremely talented teams for all Anthopoulos’ tenure, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. But things changed in 2012. After sky high expectations, the Red Sox collapsed and sent their under performing and over paid players to L.A. The perennial bottom feeders of the American League East, the Baltimore Orioles won 93 games and made the playoffs, largely on the strength of their record in close games. The O’s went 29-9 in one run games and 74-0 when leading after seven innings. The Yankees won the division again; winning 95 games in the process, but were swept out of the playoffs by the Tigers and followed this up by losing several key pieces to free agency or injury. The Rays are still the Rays, ever the model franchise, finding a way to 90 games with a roster filled with unproven talent. All of this meant the Blue Jays finally had their chance, and made their bold moves, shipping off three of their top four prospects and five top 100 prospects in total.After trading with the Miami Marlins, Toronto added all-stars Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and obtained reigning NL Cy Young award winner Robert Allen Dickey from the New York Mets. Toronto also signed center fielder Melky Cabrera, adding over $40 million of payroll to a roster of established players like possible ace Brandon Morrow, sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and the promising Colby Rasmus. Their starting pitching is solid and their lineup should be powerful. The Blue Jays are banking on the Yankees and Red Sox both having rare down years while the Orioles regress after a stellar year, paving a path to the playoffs and a chance at the ultimate prize. Make no mistake; the Blue Jays are going all for it in 2013.
Original Author: John Zakour