Just wondering: is it possible to finish sixth in the American League East?
Take that, John Farrell. You wanted Boston. The Jays, it turns out, wanted players. Playing the role of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Jays reportedly are on the verge of completing a trade with the Marlins that would send Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck to a club that finished four games ahead of the Red Sox in the standings last season. Toronto just added two capable starting pitchers (Johnson and Buehrle) and a flashy shortstop (Reyes), not to mention a versatile speedster (Bonifacio) and, at worst, a second catcher (Buck). That kind of talent hasn't migrated across the border since the Expos left Montreal.
Talk about one-stop shopping.
Now all the Jays need is a manager.
Before we all fall all over ourselves and declare the Jays favorites in the division for 2013, a word of caution: these deals never turn out quite like they're supposed to. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Dodgers acquired most every available player who wasn't nailed down, including Hanley Ramirez, Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino, Josh Beckett, and Adrian Gonzalez, among others; the Dodgers won 86 games and finished eight games behind the San Francisco Giants. Money buys you talent in baseball, but it doesn't necessarily buy you a better team, something the Red Sox learned all too well in recent years.
Should the Red Sox have made this trade? Hell no. In this scenario, they are far more like the Marlins (right down to the 69 wins) than the Jays. Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten, and the rest of the Dodgers ownership all but gave the Red Sox a Presidential pardon when they took Gonzalez, Beckett, and Carl Crawford off Boston's books in August, and John W. Henry and Co. is still returning money to hemorrhaging investors as we speak.
But in the short term, here's the problem: the American League East is getting deeper by the day and the Red Sox suddenly look like a bunch of toddlers splashing around in arm floaties bearing the likeness of Dora The Explorer. The Jays may or may not be championship threats - the latter still seems far more likely - but they are indisputably better, which creates a rather daunting problem for the Sox in their own division.
Under baseball's current scheduling system, lest we forget, the Red Sox play nearly half of their games in the division. In their last 24 games against the Baltimore Orioles, the Sox are 6-18. Against the Jays this year, they went 7-11. And we all know that, as currently constituted, the Sox are hardly in position to compete with the New York Yankees or Tampa Bay Rays, the latter of whom have perhaps the best young pitching in baseball.
The good news, if there is any, is that parity seems to have come to the American League East. Time will tell whether the Marlins-Jays deal has any direct impact on the Yankees - doesn't this clear the financial way for Alex Rodriguez to be traded to Miami? - but regardless, the Yankees have their own issues. Ditto for the Rays and their unending search for offense. Not so long ago, the AL East was an aristocracy ruled by New York and Boston. The truth now is that New York, Tampa Bay, Baltimore or Toronto could all win 90 games next season, and the Red Sox might not have quite as far to travel as they might have, say, 10 years ago.
The field got deeper, but the bar may have been lowered.
For Ben Cherington and the Boston baseball operation, none of this should really change the Red Sox' approach in rebuilding the roster. Johnson, Buehrle, and Reyes are all good players, to be sure, but none of them are the horses worth trading elite prospects for. Cherington still needs to pick his spots on this free agent market and commit to nothing more than a three-year deal - for anyone - and the Red Sox will then need to reevaluate where they are on, say, July 15, particularly as it pertains to Jacoby Ellsbury.
That is assuming, of course, that Ellsbury is not traded in the coming days, weeks or months.
In the immediate aftermath of a deal like the reported one between the Jays and Marlins, the instinct is to gasp. But for all of the hype about Johnson, he has only once pitched more than 200 innings and only once won as many as 15 games. (What is it about the Marlins and overhyped pitchers named Josh?) Yes, Johnson is talented, but he comes with questions. So does Reyes. The surest thing the Marlins acquired in this trade was Buehrle, who has pitched 200 or more innings in 12 straight seasons. If there is any one player the Red Sox should be envious of in that deal, Buehrle is the one.
The bottom line? The Red Sox and their fans need not be kicking themselves over this deal because Boston was hardly in a position to make the same trade. At the moment, the impact in New York, Tampa Bay and Baltimore is far greater than it is in Boston. Few are expecting Boston to win the World Series in 2013, anyway, and the Red Sox can continue along their path with relatively no hype, no pressure, no expectations.
At least for now.
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