DUNEDIN — J.P. Arencibia was out deer hunting somewhere in Canada last November when his cellphone began getting hit with a flush of text messages.
“People were saying, ‘Congratulations you’re coming home to Miami to play for the Marlins,’ ” the 27-year-old Miami Westminster Christian graduate said Thursday from inside the Blue Jays’ spring training facility in Dunedin.
“I was like, ‘Guys, I know I’m not being traded. Relax. I would have been talked to a long time ago if that was the case.’ ”
Arencibia obviously never became an unsuspecting victim in that infamous 12-player deal between the Marlins and Blue Jays. But he is “happy and excited to be on Toronto’s end” of the trade.
In a matter of months — and a handful of moves by general manager Alex Anthopoulos — Toronto has gone from finishing 22 games out of first place to suddenly being everybody’s favorite to win the American League East.
It’s not only that Toronto imported three former All-Stars from the Marlins in shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle — in addition to a talented utility man in Emilio Bonifacio. The Blue Jays also landed National League batting champion Melky Cabrera in free agency and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey in a trade with the Mets.
“It’s exciting. We’ve got a deep team. We have everything a team needs, pretty much,” said Johnson, who will be paid $13.75 million in the final year of a four-year contract he signed with the Marlins. “Now we’ve got to put it together and gel, kind of go from there.”
Of course, Johnson was in a similar situation last year with the Marlins, and that plan fell apart. So, like Buehrle, entering the second year of a four-year, $58 million deal he signed with the Marlins in the winter of 2011, Johnson is cautiously optimistic.
“I’ve watched too many TV shows and heard too many experts pick such and such team to get to the World Series and at the end of the year neither of those teams are there,” said Buehrle, who will be part of a rotation that features Dickey, Johnson, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero — who has moved from Opening Day starter to fifth in the rotation in a year.
“It’s good we have a good team, everybody likes us to win. But we got to go out there and play the games.”
Ultimately, injuries are what Buehrle said derailed the Marlins last season and led to a 69-win, last-place finish. “We were always putting pieces together,” Buehrle said.
Said Johnson: “I think it was a little bit of everything. [Former manager] Ozzie [Guillen], what else could he have done differently? Go out there and hit for us? Pitch for us? Nothing he could do. He managed the way he likes to manage. We had everything that could go wrong, go wrong.”
The ultimate wrong, though, remains what the Marlins did to their roster when it was all said and done. Johnson, who had been with the Marlins since 2002, said he was shocked at first when the trade went down and found out by reading the news on MLBTradeRumors.com.
“But once that wore off and I started talking to some of the guys, some of the ex-players and staff here, it was excitement from then on,” Johnson said.
“In the end, I could see them trading me. But not Buehrle and Reyes … I don’t get it. It’s their thing. They did what they felt was right. Whatever. You’ve got to move on.”
Buehrle said he has. But the disdain he feels for Marlins management will probably always be there. He said he had just spoken to Marlins president David Samson a week or two before the trade about trying to sell part of the suite he owned at Marlins Park for his family and friends. He said Samson promised he would get back to him. But when Samson called Buehrle back, it was to tell him he was being shipped to Toronto.
“It’s going to take awhile I guess before someone signs down there again,” Buehrle said. “They pretty much told me multiple times I wasn’t going anywhere.”
But now that he’s with the Blue Jays, all of that is moot for the 33-year-old left-hander. Instead of spending time looking for his dream home like he did in South Florida, he has hired a real estate agent and shopped for houses in Toronto online. His biggest worry heading into this season, he says, is figuring out how to convert the temperature from Celsius to Fahrenheit.
“First time I was up there as a rookie, I was ironing clothes for lunch and looked on the TV and it said it was 26 degrees or something,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh man, it’s cold outside.’ So I grab a sweater as I’m walking out, and everybody is in short-sleeve shirts. I walk out and it’s 70 degrees out.
“It’s a big change, but I’m getting ready for it.”