By design and by luck, Mark Buehrle built his baseball career on comfort.
He rose without resistance through the minors (1½ years!) and wasted no time acclimating himself to the big leagues. He peaked early, but he stalled his decline just as swiftly, maintaining his "above-average innings-eater" status for the last several years. During this time, he pitched a no-hitter, followed by a perfect game two years later. He's won four consecutive Gold Gloves. He's been virtually the same pitcher every year since 2007, except with varying highlights. And all after he won a World Series ring.
That's a pretty sweet life, and it's understandable why he wouldn't press his luck. He chose familiarity when he signed a below-market deal in 2007 to remain in Chicago, even though he didn't get the full no-trade clause he sought. When he decided to search for bigger deals after the 2011 season, he didn't enjoy it very much. But he and his family had a close relationship with Ozzie Guillen, so that -- and $58 million, of course -- was enough to lure him to Miami, even though the Marlins don't offer no-trade protection.
But many creatures migrate to Florida for the twilight of their years, and Buehrle was no exception. His move to the National League was a natural one, since his repertoire stood a good chance of befuddling the weaker league for years, helping to pad his win total and boost his Hall of Fame case.
Little did Buehrle know Jeffrey Loria had designs on pulling callous rope-a-dope with his backloaded contract, as well as the one Jose Reyes signed. On Tuesday evening, the Miami Marlins arranged to send Buehrle, along with Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays in a salary dump that has the entire baseball world shaking its head. As Rany Jazayerli summed up in a tweet:
MIA paid Reyes & Buehrle $16M COMBINED in 2012 and are now trading them for a boatload of prospects. It's brilliant, in a horribly evil way.— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) November 14, 2012
Given the guys Miami will receive once this megadeal goes through, I would hesitate to call the return a "boatload of prospects." But the point stands that Loria found a way to pay Buehrle and Reyes well below what they were worth, and then dealt them for more guys they wouldn't have to pay.
As a result, the approval of the trade will put Buehrle in foreign territory, and not just geographically.
When Buehrle moved to Florida, he had to live outside of Miami-Dade County due to its ban on pit bulls. When voters decided to preserve the 13-year-old breed-specific ban, he made his displeasure known:
Buehrle and his wife, Jamie, were forced to settle in Broward Country instead of Dade because of their love of Slater, their 2-year-old pit bull. They have been outspoken critics of the law and did a public service announcement on behalf of pit-bull owners.
"I'm not too happy with it. Obviously, with the work my wife's done, not just her, to try to get it changed,'' he said. "We need to continue teaching people about pit bull breeds. There's a lot of ignorance out there.
"Unfortunately, it didn't happen this time, but we've made progress and are headed in the right direction. We want to educate people to realize that it's not really the dog, it's the owner who should be responsible.
"It's frustrating, but we're going to continue.''
If he thought a 45-minute commute to the ballpark was inconvenient, it'll be interesting to see how he handles Ontario's seven-year-old pit bull ban. At that point, his nearest pit bull-friendly option is Buffalo, which is two hours away. At least his backloaded contract would allow him to feed his monster truck with gas that costs $1.20 more per gallon than what he paid in Florida.
His baseball environs may prove to be equally inhospitable. Buehrle would move from one of baseball's stingiest home run park to Rogers Centre, which has given up bunches in recent years. His home run rate was its highest since 2006, although he compensated by allowing fewer hits and walks overall, so the uptick in gopher balls might be the result of challenging hitters more often. He made his name pitching at U.S. Cellular Field, so he's not going to cower at the prospect of closer fences.
Setting aside the park, he'll face stiffer competition in an AL East that he's found challenging at times. Here's how he fared against what would be his new divisional opponents over his last three years with the White Sox:
|Boston Red Sox||1-1||3.81||4||26||34||2||7||15|
|New York Yankees||0-3||6.95||4||22||36||6||6||9|
|Tampa Bay Rays
Buehrle comes back to the American League with even less on his fastball and cutter, so he'll have to be even craftier than usual.
But we know all of this, because the Pitch f/x data says he's always on the verge of sudden decline. He built the second half of his career on a fault line, but he may never face the consequences of it, because he's special.
I'm far more interested in how he handles an unprecedented amount of turmoil around him. For the first time in a long time, Buehrle won't have his choice of surroundings or coaches. It's quite possible nothing will harsh his mellow, but this should put the elasticity of his baseball being to the test.