Miami Marlins

Marlins could have received ace starter in Toronto trade

Daydream a little.

Just imagine if the Marlins had a one-two tandem of Jose Fernandez and Noah Syndergaard anchoring their starting rotation.

It’s not just wishful thinking.

The Marlins, at one time, could have had Syndergaard.

Or Aaron Sanchez, another young hurler with a good arm.

Instead, when the Toronto Blue Jays gave them a choice of three minor-league pitchers during negotiations preceding their 2012 blockbuster trade, Miami passed on both and settled on Justin Nicolino.

That ill-fated decision created a seismic shift in the balance of power in the National League East, and it’s one that likely haunts them now.

While Syndergaard has emerged as a dominator with the New York Mets and Sanchez has blossomed into a solid fixture in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, Nicolino has struggled.

On Sunday, the Marlins demoted Nicolino to Triple A.

The Marlins could sorely use a Syndergaard, or a Sanchez, to bolster a suspect starting rotation headed by Fernandez but containing no true No. 2 or No. 3 starter.

And, yet, in their Let’s Make A Deal moment with the Blue Jays, the Marlins picked the wrong door.

According to sources with knowledge of trade discussions with the Blue Jays in November, 2012 — the 11-player exchange in which the Marlins salary-dumped Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle — the Marlins were given a choice of three prized prospects who had spent the previous summer at Single A Lansing.

Syndergaard, Sanchez and Nicolino.

Take your pick.

At the time, it wasn’t the easy choice that it appears now.

Baseball America in 2012 ranked Nicolino as the No. 5 prospect in the talent-laden Jays organization. Sanchez was No. 6. Syndergaard was No. 7.

All three were coming off strong seasons.

Nicolino had gone 10-4 with a 2.46 ERA. His strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.67 was the best among the three. Syndergaard went 8-5 with a 2.60 ERA and a SO/W ratio of 3.94. Sanchez was 8-5 with a 2.49 ERA and SO/W ratio of 1.90.

The view within the Marlins organization was that Nicolino was the most polished of the three. And he gained extra value as the only left-hander in the trio.

And so on Nov. 19, 2012, the Marlins received a haul of Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Anthony DeSclafani, Jake Marisnick, Jeff Mathis and Yunel Escobar. They gave up Reyes, Buehrle, John Buck, Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio.

One month later, on Dec. 17, the Mets landed Syndergaard, along with Travis d’Arnaud, from Toronto in exchange for R.A. Dickey and two others.

Syndergaard this season is 7-2 with a 1.91 ERA for the Mets.

Sanchez is 7-1 with a 3.35 ERA for the Blue Jays.

Nicolino went 2-4 with a 5.17 ERA for the Marlins.

He will make his next start with New Orleans.

COMING UP

▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (9-3, 2.57 ERA) vs. Atlanta Braves RHP Bud Norris (2-7, 4.81), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

▪ Wednesday: Marlins LHP Adam Conley (3-4, 3.94) vs. Atlanta Braves RHP Matt Wisler (3-7, 4.23), 12:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

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