By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Spending vasts amount of money is no guarantee for instant success, as the Miami Marlins discovered. Now, the team's owners are under fire for a proposal to trade their most expensive players to Toronto.
Major League Baseball executives on Wednesday were still pouring over terms agreed by the two sides before approving a swap that would shift high-priced players including Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Marlins to the Blue Jays and slice some $160 million off Miami's payroll.
The proposed deal, which unsurprisingly produced howls of protest from Miami fans and squeals of delight in Toronto, comes about three months after the Red Sox unloaded about a quarter of a billion in salaries in a mega-deal with the Dodgers.
"It's very hard to referee owners who have their own sense of their best interest," former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent told Reuters in telephone interview on Wednesday.
"What we're really seeing is the natural development of the response to enormous baseball salaries."
Of course, it is individual owners who have chosen to pay the freight on free agents, even when shown the example of the 2012 Oakland Athletics, who dethroned two-time American League champion Texas Rangers as division champions despite having the league's lowest payroll.
The trade figures to turn Toronto into instant contenders, fortifying the starting rotation with Johnson and Buehrle, and adding an electrifying talent in four-time All Star shortstop Reyes (11 home runs, 57 RBIs, 40 steals, .287 and 12 triples).
Given last season's resurgence in Baltimore, where the Orioles improved by 24 games to win a wildcard playoff berth, the rise of the Blue Jays will put even more pressure on the Red Sox to get better or flounder in the AL East, which also the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays poised to make a run for it.
Miami, meanwhile, looks content to pocket millions in revenue sharing paid by the richest teams, while giving NL East powers Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies a little less to worry about on the diamond.
Las Vegas has noticed.
Online betting site Bovada (www.bovada/lv) adjusted their odds for the Marlins to win the 2013 World Series from 40-1 to 100-1, while improving the Blue Jays' chances from 35-1 to 14-1.
A year ago, it was the Marlins trying to make a splash.
Marlins owner, art dealer Jeffrey Loria, last year plunged into the free agent market for a roster makeover to match a rebranding push with their new name (from Florida Marlins), new retractable roof stadium, new manager and new uniforms.
But after their 69-93 record this season landed Miami at the bottom of the NL East, Loria decided on an about-face.
"We finished in last place. Figure it out," Loria told CBSSports.com from the MLB's winter meetings in Chicago.
Vincent said the recent deals were not like the fire-sales tried by Oakland owner Charles Finley back in the 1970s, which led then-MLB chief Bowie Kuhn to veto them under the commissioner's "best interests of baseball" umbrella powers.
After assembling a team that won three World Series in a row from 1972 and five successive division titles, Finley was stopped from selling soon-to-be free agents Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees.
Vincent, who served as baseball chief from 1989-92, said the current trades were understandable.
"I think that the Red Sox trade made sense, certainly from the Red Sox side, and the Dodgers were in a position that they just got sold for $2.1 billion and the television value of the programming was underneath that transaction," he said.
Boston sent a package including underperforming stars Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett along with power-hitting Adrian Gonzalez to Los Angeles, looking to liven up their lineup, in return for some promising young players.
"Here, in Toronto's point of view, they're picking up a remarkable set of talent in the shortstop (Reyes), the two pitchers, Johnson and Buehrle, who have terrific histories.
"Why did Miami do it? They have a history. The guy down there (Loria) is very consistent."
Vincent said Loria deviated from his management style when he was encouraged to spend more money on his team as he tried to spruce up the image of the Marlins.
"He did it. I don't think he was comfortable, and he just undid it. He's an unusual owner. He's been taking money from the big guys on revenue sharing and the luxury tax and spending very little money. He obviously thought better of it."
Vincent said it was only natural to look for a way out, if an owner was unhappy with high-priced player purchases.
"If someone would take those players from Miami and give you back some prospects, I'm sure Miami has a respectable argument that this deal makes sense for them."
(Editing by Julian Linden)
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