Eight months later, blockbuster deal paying dividends
Hechavarria, Mathis, Dietrich leading Marlins into promising future
MIAMI -- The trade was the biggest and perhaps most controversial in franchise history. It involved 12 players uprooting and changing addresses, along with the signaling of a redirection for an organization that was seemingly seeking continuity.
But after an agonizingly disappointing last-place finish in 2012, coupled with lower-than-anticipated attendance in their inaugural season in a colorful new ballpark, the Marlins' upper management mandated a complete overhaul.
Rather than stick with a high-profile manager and high-payroll players, the Marlins decided to unload and reload their big league and Minor League rosters.
So sweeping changes were made, mainly among those wearing the multicolored Miami uniforms. Outspoken Ozzie Guillen was replaced as manager by the more mild-mannered Mike Redmond.
With Guillen gone, so was the Marlins' one-year brush with being a made-for-TMZ, celebrity-styled franchise. Changing leadership was just the first step. Cutting ties with a number of core players was the other.
The move of all moves came on Nov. 20, when the Marlins finalized their mega-deal with the Blue Jays.
Miami sent five popular players to Toronto -- Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck. In exchange, it received seven players, four with big league experience: Adeiny Hechavarria, Jeff Mathis, Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani.
Through the years, the Marlins have made their share of blockbuster trades, but none involved as many as 12 players. And none triggered such a backlash from the local and national media, as well as fans who expressed outrage at seeing their favorite players dispatched after just one season at Marlins Park.
The trade stirred so much emotion, But now, nearly eight months and a half season later, the dust is settling. And indications are the deal has positioned the Marlins nicely to move forward in their quest to get back into contention.
"We got some good young players who are growing together," Marlins general manager Michael Hill said.
Time will ultimately judge how the trade plays out. But the Marlins are certainly happy with what they're seeing from the pieces brought in from Toronto.
"So far, so good," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "They've kind of come as advertised. They've done a good job."
Mathis is performing at a high level behind the plate, and he's helped groom a young pitching staff. He's also aware of the negative public reaction to how he ended up in Miami.
"It's definitely motivational," Mathis said. "In my case, I thought I was going to be in a spot for at least two or three more years. Then, the next thing you know, you're picking up and moving somewhere else."
Hechavarria is the everyday shortstop, displaying Gold Glove-caliber defense, and improving offense. Alvarez, who missed 2 1/2 months due to right shoulder inflammation, is expected to be a fixture in the rotation.
In 2012, Hechavarria made his Major League debut, playing a couple of months for Toronto, while Alvarez was an innings-eater in the rotation.
"Obviously, you knew they were good players for the Marlins to want them and bring them over in a trade like that," Mathis said. "From what I saw in playing the half-year with Hech, and the whole year with Henderson, was just some good, young players who are starting to come into their own now.
"They're starting to get more innings and at-bats under their belts now to where they're starting to figure things out. It's fun to watch."
Another key component in the trade has turned out to be Derek Dietrich, now Miami's everyday second baseman.
Technically, Dietrich is a byproduct of the trade. When Escobar balked at moving from shortstop to third base, the Marlins dealt him to Tampa Bay during the Winter Meetings for Dietrich, who opened the year at Double-A Jacksonville.
Dietrich, 24, is a promising left-handed hitter, who entered the All-Star break with nine home runs.
"Dietrich has been great," Beinfest said. "He's done a really good job. He's just a gamer. He's a hard-nosed kid. The power has been impressive. Now, he just has to work on the consistency in the contact. And like a lot of young players, he's having his ups and downs. The one thing we keep an eye on is, is he keeping his head up? He is. His mental approach is really good."
Already, the Marlins are seeing a return at the Major League level. And three more touted prospects are getting closer to reaching the big leagues.
Marisnick is projected as the center fielder of the future. He's at Double-A Jacksonville and could be called up in the second half. Defensively, Marisnick is above average. He's got terrific speed and covers plenty of ground. Offensively, his numbers are picking up for the Suns, and he's shown signs of power. It's a matter of refining his swing, which can get long on occasion.
Health is another issue, as Marisnick missed time with a broken left hand this season.
Nicolino is a left-hander at Class A Jupiter with intriguing upside, and he projects to be in the rotation in a year or two.
Perhaps the sleeper in the deal is DeSclafani, a right-hander who has moved from Jupiter to Jacksonville this season. If he keeps progressing, he may get a chance to pitch in the big leagues before the season ends.
When the deal was being hatched at the 2012 General Managers' Meetings, the Marlins already were committed to trading Reyes. Knowing they were moving a former batting champion and four-time All-Star, Miami maintained Hechavarria was a must in the deal.
According to their scouting reports, the Marlins felt Hechavarria was better defensively than Reyes. But at the plate, the 24-year-old Cuban native wasn't as advanced. Still, Miami officials were confident his offense would steadily improve, not just for 2013, but over the next few seasons.
"We were trading good players," Hill said. "A big key to it was Hechavarria. He had to be in the deal. You were trading away an All-Star shortstop."
The Marlins still have plenty of room for growth and improvement, and results aren't happening overnight. That's why the team has publicly called 2013 a "transition season."
Building into a serious contender is expected to take another year or two. But from what the organization sees thus far from the Toronto trade is it has some major pieces who are part of the present and future.
"When you look at the direction you are going, and you rewind," Hill said. "You want young, top-end, championship-caliber talent."
The trade appears to have provided just that. Now, it is a matter of the talent developing.