DUNEDIN, Fla. — The official team nickname remains Blue Jays, but it includes a distinct Blue Marlins subset these days.
That’s as good a description as any for Toronto – infused with talent imported through a blockbuster trade with Miami. There’s speculation that the deal could transform the Jays into American League East contenders with the aging yet still-dangerous New York Yankees, the ever-resourceful Tampa Bay Rays and the improving Baltimore Orioles.
Jose Reyes is an everyday shortstop.
Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson are starting pitchers.
Emilio Bonifacio is a versatile reserve.
Those are the Blue Jays who were Marlins until another Miami salary dump changed their professional address. (Miami included catcher John Buck in the purge, but Toronto traded him to the New York Mets.)
The best of the Marlins’ haul, after other trade dust settled, appears to be shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and starting pitcher Henderson Alvarez.
Those are the nuts and bolts.
The emotional side of it is that the most vocal of the ex-Marlins – Buehrle, who said he was “lied to” by the franchise about the possibility of being traded – hasn’t left the angst and anger behind.
Oh, he’s happy to be with a promising team rather than being stuck on a team starting all but over. But he still feels betrayed for having been dealt one season into a four-year contract.
Buehrle, speaking at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where Toronto pitchers and catchers have reported for workouts, said he “took a chance” on believing what the Marlins told him even though he was aware of the franchise’s history of slashing payroll.
And he said he wanted no part of a post-trade conversation with Marlins president David Samson, who called to offer an explanation.
He said Samson said the 69-93 season hadn’t been what the Marlins expected after diving into the free-agent pool to sign Buehrle, Reyes and reliever Heath Bell. Buehrle also said Samson admitted that attendance in the team’s first year in its new stadium had been disappointing.
“He reached out to me,” Buehrle said. “I had nothing to say. It wasn’t going to be a friendly conversation.”
It’s the Blue Jays, a 73-win team last season in a division in which the Yankees, Rays and Orioles all won at least 90 games, who have been aggressive in gathering talent this time.
Buehrle knows better than to get caught up again in the web of high expectations.
“A lot of stuff was said a year ago, too,” he warned.
Johnson, whose locker is next to Buehrle’s, understands his teammate’s feelings.
“I have mixed emotions. I grew up as a Marlin and wanted to be part of winning a World Series with them,” Johnson said. “I’m more upset for Mark and Jose, who were at the start of a four-year or a six-year contract and made the decision to come to Miami based on information that turned out not to be true for whatever reason.”
Buehrle, a career workhorse, and Johnson, who has endured his share of injuries, will be part of a starting rotation headed by knuckleball pitcher R.A. Dickey, another Toronto newcomer, who won the Cy Young Award with the Mets last season.
“Every one of the Marlins who came to Toronto can be big-time contributors right out of the chute,” said Dickey, a former pitcher for the Seattle Mariners and Tacoma Rainiers. “I know they had a difficult season down there, but we’re talking about four very good players.
“And speaking strictly from a pitcher’s perspective on other pitchers, I know how respected Mark and Josh are.”
It falls to manager John Gibbons, in his second tour on the Jays’ job, to mesh the talent gathered by general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
“We’ve all heard a lot of people saying a lot of good things about us,” Gibbons said. “We think we’re going to be pretty good, too, but you still have to go out and win the games.”
He didn’t use last season’s Marlins as an example, but he certainly could have.
“You can have all the talent in the world, and not win,” Gibbons said. “Nobody has everything, but we can’t deny what Alex accomplished in addressing what we need. We can do a lot of things. Alex has the mentality that now’s the time.”
The four Marlins-turned-Blue Jays make it impossible to ignore parallels between Miami last season and Toronto this season. The Blue Jays are very much one of baseball’s “It” teams – big spenders, big publicity, big dreams – just as the Marlins were last spring.
What fun it will be to measure Toronto and Miami against their win totals from a season ago, and to measure the performances of the players who will have played for both teams.
Reyes is due $96 million over the next five years.
Buehrle is due $52 million over the next three years.
Johnson is due $13.75 million this year.
One team decided they were worth the big money; another team decided they weren’t.
“We’ll see,” Johnson said.