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Game-changer: Reported Blue Jays-Marlins blockbuster shakes up AL East

The American League [1] East suddenly looks like a drastically different place.

The Blue Jays and Marlins rocked the baseball industry on Tuesday night as reports emerged of a blockbuster that will send shortstop Jose Reyes [2], starting pitchers Josh Johnson [3] and Mark Buehrle [4], second baseman Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck [5] to Toronto.

In exchange, Miami will receive:

— Outfielder Jake Marisnick (a potential five-tool center fielder who ranked as the second-best Blue Jays prospect after finishing 2012 in Double-A);

— Left-hander Justin Nicolino (a potential mid-rotation starter who spent all of 2012 in Single-A with excellent strikeout-to-walk numbers);

— Right-hander Anthony DeSclafani (another pitcher who put up solid numbers in Single-A);

— Shortstop Yunel Escobar [6] (a talented but enigmatic player who drifted into considerable public scrutiny when he wrote a homophobic slur in Spanish on his eye black);

— Infielder Adeiny Hechavarria (in the eyes of some, a variation on Jose Iglesias [7], with slightly better — though still limited — offensive tools and a good but not Iglesias-level glove);

— Right-hander Henderson Alvarez (who spent an unimpressive year in the Toronto rotation throwing hard but featuring no real above-average pitches);

— And a solid defensive catcher without any offensive ability in Jeff Mathis.

For the Sox, the primary impact of the trade comes in the form of a division that now appears even more formidable than the one that just steamrolled Boston en route to a 69-93 record in 2012. The idea of a Jays lineup featuring an elite leadoff man in Reyes followed by the likes of third baseman Brett Lawrie [8], former 50-homer hitter Jose Bautista (if he recovers fully from wrist surgery) and former 40-homer man Edwin Encarnacion [9] is imposing.

Meanwhile, the Jays will feature a rotation with tremendous potential albeit few guarantees. In a best-case scenario for Toronto, the team can get a bounceback to All-Star form from left-hander Ricky Romero [10] (who went from a 2.92 ERA in 2011 to a 5.77 mark in 2012, then required an elbow clean-up after the year), strong contributions from 29-year-old Johnson (who has the ceiling of a top-of-the-rotation starter but with little performance certainty after going 2-8 with a 4.94 ERA on the road in 2012, compared to marks of 6-6 and 2.96 at home) and Buehrle (12 straight years of 200+ innings, with nine years in that span of sub-4.00 ERAs), good health from right-hander Brandon Morrow [11] (10-7 with a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts in 2012) and a passable contribution from left-hander J.A. Happ (10-11, 4.79 ERA, 144 strikeouts in 144 2/3 innings in 2012 between the Astros and Jays) at the back of the rotation, the team could have a rotation that could rival anyone’s. Of course, if Romero resembles his 2012 form, and Johnson looks like the pitcher who was beaten up on the road, and Buehrle’s billion innings of work catch up to him (and the AL East proves inhospitable to the guile that has permitted him to live with a mid-80s fastball), and Morrow fails to prove that he can sustain health and dominant stuff for a full season, and Happ continues to struggle with command issues . . .

The best- and worst-case scenarios are, of course, extreme for Toronto with this deal. Still, the idea of the Blue Jays on paper is an impressive one. Indeed, a case can be made that the Jays now have the fewest holes of any team in the AL East, with a chance (again, largely depending on Toronto’s health) to compete toe-to-toe with virtually anyone in the division:

In isolation, the players who went from Miami to Toronto wouldn’t necessarily have carried tremendous appeal to the Sox. Reyes is still owed $96 million over the next five years; though an All-Star caliber player in his prime, there’s plenty of risk to such a long-term deal for a player who has dealt with a number of injuries (though none in 2012, when he played a career-high 160 games). The Sox weren’t terribly interested in the idea of trading for Johnson, given that his uneven 2012 performance came with a number of question marks and he’s just one year away from free agency (something that is unappealing for the Sox in a trade candidate, given the team’s uncertain ability to contend in 2013). Buehrle is owed $48 million over the next three years; it’s fair to ask whether, after a career in the AL Central and NL East, his stuff can hold up in the AL East.

Still, the collective impact on the Jays should represent a considerable upgrade at a number of positions. If that comes in concert with strong performances by the returning Toronto players, then there could be a new contender in the AL East.

What will this actually mean for 2013? It’s waaaay too early to say. But clearly, the offseason of 2012-13 is off to a fairly wild start, with emerging evidence that more shocks are in store.