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Blue Jays' big trade ups the ante for Orioles in AL East

I had separate conversations earlier this offseason with a scout from a rival team and a player agent that basically intimated the same thing:

The industry was watching what the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays would do this winter because they are viewed as the potential new guard in the AL East with the New York Yankees aging, the Boston Red Sox rebuilding and the Tampa Bay Rays hampered by payroll.

The agent said Baltimore and Toronto could be easier sells this year to clients because the sense is that both teams are in a position to win now and for a few more years if they make the right choices.

The scout said the perception is that the Orioles have the money and/or the trade chips to add a big piece to an already good team and that the Jays are so flush with cash that they are just waiting for the right opportunity to supplement a solid nucleus.

Well, consider the Blue Jays on their way to making that move.

Although unofficial, it looks like they are about to pull off a crazy blockbuster with the penthouse-to- poorhouse Florida Marlins.

According to several reports, the Jays would get starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, infielder/outfielder Emilio Bonifacio for four of the Jays’ better prospects, as well as enigmatic shortstop Yunel Escobar, catcher Jeff Mathis and pitcher Henderson Alvarez.

My first take is that this is another baseball abomination brought to us by Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who keeps buying Park Place and Boardwalk, putting up hotels and then mortgaging them just for fun. It is really a shame for the baseball fans of South Florida.

And it further complicates things in the AL East.

This deal gives the Jays one of the premier middle infielders in baseball – when Reyes is healthy. And one of the better starters in baseball – when Johnson is healthy. Buehrle is an excellent addition to any staff and Bonifacio provides speed and versatility, when healthy.

Obviously, “when healthy” is a key here and the Jays have given up some of their future to make this happen. Infielder Adeiny Hechavarria is supposed to be a heck of a defensive whiz, outfielder Jake Marisnick was considered by Baseball America to be Toronto’s second-best prospect and count me in as one that thinks the 22-year-old Alvarez has an extremely bright future.

So it’s possible that the Blue Jays could regret giving up the young players in a few years.

But if their window for success really is open right now like the scout and agent suggest – Toronto was just 73-89 last year but was crushed by injuries – then this is a move they had to make.

A rotation of Johnson, Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero and a fifth guy (J.A. Happ, maybe) is balanced and talented. Reyes and Bonifacio getting on base for Brett Lawrie, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Colby Rasmus could be scary.

I wouldn’t say this trade shifts balance in the American League East, but it sure would add another team to seriously consider in a division that is always tough.

The Orioles aren’t going to knee jerk in response to this; executive vice president Dan Duquette would be looking to upgrade the club’s offense and deepen its pitching staff, regardless.

But, yes, this does make it a little more imperative that the Orioles improve their roster this offseason – to keep them relevant in 2013 and beyond.

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