Alex AnthopolousPart of me wonders why last night’s blockbuster trade between the Blue Jays and Marlins caught so many people by surprise.

In hindsight, all the ingredients were there – at least from Toronto’s perspective – to do something huge. Over the past few years, the Blue Jays have quietly created one of the more intriguing player development systems in all of baseball. They’re owned by Rogers Communications – who have deep pockets and are notoriously competitive. They also have a savvy GM in Alex Anthoplous who isn’t afraid to jump when a good deal presents itself. Mix those three ingredients together and you’re looking at a team that was just waiting to do something big.

Spurred to action after a disappointing season that was overshadowed by homophobic slurs, injuries, underperformance and the prickly departure of manager John Farrell, the Blue Jays acted quickly to erase the emerging doubt beginning to take hold around the organization by acquiring five players in a way not seen since the days of Pat Gillick. With prospects to peddle, money to spend, a GM willing to deal and a team open for business, the Blue Jays’ perfect storm of 1991 recreated itself all over again.

The ripple effect will be significant in a number of ways; from how players negotiate no-trade clauses, to how the Marlins will be viewed by their fans and how the rest of the AL East will respond. This week, we’ll take a look at the mega-deal and ponder the implications it might have on the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 season.

Let’s jump right in…

The Blue Jays are better, but let’s not get carried away

It’s certainly easy to see why the Blue Jays figured this year was the year to strike. With the Red Sox looking at more holes than a Tijuana Donkey show and the Yankees being forced to pare back their usual spend thrifty approach to the offseason – it’s no surprise that the Jays saw their opportunity to pounce and take the division. Considering the new talent they added, they took a gigantic step towards making that goal a reality.

However, it’s hard to figure out what it means for the Red Sox in 2013. In fact, it’s hard to figure out what it means for the Blue Jays, too – who picked up a whole swath of intriguing, talented but far-from-a-sure-thing players.

Jose Reyes is one of the best players in baseball when he’s healthy, but one has to be concerned with his contract considering his rather extensive injury history. He certainly fills a need, but can he stay healthy?

Josh Johnson has demonstrated bonfire top-of-the-rotation ability in the past, but given a relatively up and down 2012 and a 2011 season that was shrouded in injuries, there seems to be more questions than answers at this point.

Mark Buehrle has been as consistent a pitcher as there is in the Majors over the past four to five years, but will the workload finally catch up to him? More importantly, can he continue out-running his not-so-hot peripherals at this rate forever – especially since there won’t be anywhere to hide in the AL East?

And that’s not even getting into the plethora of questions that exist on the Jays’ roster currently – questions that aren’t unlike many that the Red Sox have. So while it’s true the Blue Jays may have filled the majority of their holes, there’s still quite a bit of gambling going on there. Their team could be really great. They could also be incredibly disappointing. Let’s not lose sight of either.

It’s going to be harder to compete in 2013.

Even if the Blue Jays aren’t that much better next year – they’ll still be pretty good. That makes the Red Sox the team with the largest line to tow in order to catch up with the rest of the division. With a roster stuffed full of question marks and holes, the odds of the Red Sox truly contending just got longer. It’s not to say there isn’t a path to success, but a lot of things would have to fall the Red Sox way for that to happen.

Free agency would have to be one of those things, and that doesn’t appear to be working in Boston’s favor at all. With three-year deals liberally being handed out to relievers and mediocre players, the price of acquiring free agents has gone up considerably. While the Red Sox have money to spend, they’ll be faced with the difficult challenge of balancing the desire to avoid gaudy contracts with new market realities that require more money and longer commitments in order to land players. Making things even more complex – with the Red Sox and Marlins making two very high-profile salary dumps this year, it’s likely that more players will ask for no-trade clauses in their contracts heading forward.

When you’re essentially relying on free agency to help get you back in the mix, that’s not the news you want to hear.

Couple all of what I just said with an uncertain trade market that features an abundance of moving parts, and building the 2013 Red Sox goes form ‘hard’ to ‘downright daunting.’ While it’s true that there’s plenty of exciting talent to choose from, it’s going to cost a lot in terms of budding, young talent. Are the Red Sox really going to be at a point where they’re willing to part with top prospects to get those pieces? The answer is: probably not.

Again – there can be a pathway to success; it’s just that road just got a little longer and a whole lot more bumpy.

But it shouldn’t change much about the Red Sox offseason plans

The worst thing the Red Sox could do right now, would be to react and make a deal of their own as a counter punch. A large part of what got the Red Sox into this mess to begin with wasn’t as much their free spending ways (although that certainly didn’t help) as much as it was the driving force behind them: a need to constantly react to the world around them in a poor attempt to fake-reassure a needlessly jittery fan base. Cannonballing into the pool for the sake of it would be the worst possible course of action for the Red Sox.

That line of thinking is largely reinforced by the fact that none of the realistic Red Sox targets on the market were effected – unless of course you’re part of the crowd infatuated with Josh Johnson. In fact, with the Blue Jays out of the mix, one could argue that the market may have become more navigable for the Sox in any number of ways. There are still plenty of paths to get better, plenty of players to trade for and plenty of opportunities to explore.

While this deal might change the landscape around the Red Sox a bit, it shouldn’t dramatically impact their overall offseason plan.