Josh Johnson had a 3.81 ERA for the Marlins this season.
According to Fox Sports, shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck, utilityman Emilio Bonifacio and starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle are going north of the border.
Heading south to Miami are shortstop Yunel Escobar, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria, pitcher Henderson Alvarez and catcher Jeff Mathis, along with minor league pitchers Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani and outfielder Jake Marisnick.
But the objectives for each team in this trade are completely different. One is loading up for a division title and playoff run while the other is going into rebuilding mode. The Blue Jays making a run in the AL East is much more exciting, however, so let's look at how this affects their chances. Which of the players Toronto received will make the most difference?
Reyes is certainly an upgrade at shortstop. Not only is he a better hitter and on-base threat than Escobar, but he brings far more speed to the Blue Jays lineup. Reyes notched 40 stolen bases to Escobar's five this past season. Between him and Rajai Davis, it could get speedy on the basepaths in Toronto.
However, Escobar is a better defensive shortstop, as illustrated by FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating. Will Reyes be better or worse on the Rogers Centre artificial turf? Ground balls will get to him faster now.
Buehrle will be a better second or third starter than the Blue Jays had this year. Though his record was 13-13, that was due to him playing for a Marlins team that only won 69 games and finished last in the NL East. His 3.74 ERA was close to his career average. The left-hander is also accustomed to pitching in the American League, which should appeal to Toronto.
However, what the Blue Jays lacked most this season—and haven't had since Roy Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009—is an ace-level No. 1 starter at the top of its rotation. Josh Johnson gives Toronto that.
Fans of Brandon Morrow might disagree with that. He's certainly a spectacular talent with major strikeout stuff. Though Morrow had a 2.96 ERA this year, he made only 21 starts due to an oblique injury. He hasn't had that one season where it all comes together for him. But 2012 was only his third full season as a starting pitcher and he has two years left on his contract to break through.
But Johnson has already established his credentials as a major league ace. In 2010, he led the NL with a 2.30 ERA in 28 starts. He won 15 games the previous season. He's capable of throwing 200 innings (having done so once in his career) and likely has a 200-strikeout season in him as well.
Johnson struggled this season while returning from shoulder surgery. In April, his ERA was 5.34. He finished the first half with a 5-5 record and 4.06 ERA. But he recovered nicely in the second half, posting a 3.53 ERA. In September, Johnson's ERA was 2.91 in five starts, with 29 strikeouts in 34 innings.
While Johnson's 8-14 record may not look terribly impressive, the same defense applies to him as it did with Buehrle. The Marlins were a terrible team this season (which is probably a big reason they're filleting themselves with yet another fire sale).
Johnson also received the worst run support among qualified starting pitchers, according to ESPN.com, getting 3.13 runs per start.
Run support shouldn't be a problem for Johnson in Toronto, however. The Blue Jays scored 716 runs this season, finishing seventh out of 14 AL teams. But that was with home run champion Jose Bautista playing only 92 games due to a wrist injury that eventually required season-ending surgery.
Toronto also features Edwin Encarnacion coming off a 42-homer, 110-RBI season. Colby Rasmus slugged 23 homers with 75 RBI. And if Bautista comes back healthy next year, he will likely put up another 40 home runs and 100 RBI.
It's not a coincidence that Johnson was the first player named as being traded to the Blue Jays in initial reports. Reyes and Buehrle might be flashier names because of their big free-agent contracts worth a combined $174 million. But it's the ace that matters the most.
Johnson was the Marlins player most in demand at the trade deadline, and had a team like the Texas Rangers acquired him, perhaps they would have won the AL West and returned to the World Series.
With the big 28-year-old right-hander at the top of their rotation, the Blue Jays are now a team to fear in the AL East. The Rays with David Price and Yankees with CC Sabathia can boast of having better No. 1 starters. But Johnson is now the top right-hander in the division.
Toronto might have the AL East's best starting trio in its rotation with Johnson, Buehrle and Morrow. With Ricky Romero pushed to the fourth spot and perhaps J.A. Happ holding down the fifth starter role, this looks like a strong pitching quintet, one of the best in MLB.
If pitching was the difference in the Blue Jays competing in the AL East, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has now addressed that concern in a major way.
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