Commentary

Race for Halladay is on

Red Sox among suitors, but competition will be tough

Updated: November 24, 2009, 2:52 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

Pedro Martinez. Curt Schilling. Josh Beckett.

Are you ready to add Roy Halladay to the Red Sox's list of franchise-altering starting pitchers in the past dozen years? More importantly, can the Red Sox pull it off?

Halladay is not a free agent. But neither were Martinez, Schilling or Beckett when, in order, Dan Duquette, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer/Bill Lajoie/Larry Lucchino made the trades that brought the elite right-handers to Boston.

Halladay wants out of Toronto after enduring the mind-bending exercise of this past summer's public auction that ended with a no sale -- a scenario that left him frustrated, Blue Jays fans angry and general manager J.P. Ricciardi scorned.

Halladay wants to win, and he has informed Alex Anthopoulos, Toronto's new GM, and CEO Paul Beeston that he doesn't think the Blue Jays will be in position to do so anytime soon, leaving him with no incentive to re-sign with the club when his deal is up after next season. Halladay, Beeston told the New York Post last weekend, "is not inclined to sign" with the Jays, which all but assures that a Halladay trade is in the offing, either this winter or at the trade deadline next summer.

The Red Sox made a strong push for the six-time All-Star and former Cy Young Award winner in July, offering a variety of packages, all anchored by young right-hander Clay Buchholz and including swingman Justin Masterson and lefty prospect Nick Hagadone. They were turned down.

Since then, Masterson and Hagadone were sent to the Indians in the Victor Martinez deal, and Buchholz resurrected his ace-in-the-making status with a strong September. The Blue Jays would almost certainly make Buchholz the starting point of any deal for Halladay, just as they did this past summer. But any team trading for Halladay now gets the benefit of just one season under contract with the 32-year-old right-hander, although Anthopoulos, unlike Ricciardi, has signaled a willingness to allow a prospective trading partner a window to negotiate a contract extension.

Halladay, in a rotation with Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka, would give the Red Sox their best chance of competing with the defending champion Yankees next season. He also would solidify the staff if the Sox were unable to re-sign Beckett before he becomes a free agent next winter.

According to ESPN statman Mark Simon, since 2006, Halladay ranks No. 1 in the big leagues in wins (69) and innings pitched (930 1/3), is fourth in ERA (3.11) among pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched and is fourth in opponents' OPS (.655).

And the Elias Sports Bureau proclaimed that among pitchers with a minimum of 20 decisions against the Yankees, Halladay ranks third all time with a .750 winning percentage (18-6 record) versus the Bombers, behind only Hall of Famers Babe Ruth (17-5, .773) and Addie Joss (28-9, .757).

The Red Sox have other options. They could use their chips to try to acquire a power-hitting first baseman in San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez, or take a run at young Florida right-hander Josh Johnson, if the Marlins decide they can't (or won't) re-sign him.

But there is no question that Halladay is again on the team's radar, according to club and major league sources. The Yankees, despite spending $243.5 million on pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett last winter, will not let Boston's bid go unchallenged.

The Phillies, despite trading for Cliff Lee at July's deadline, still hold prime pieces they could use in a possible deal for Halladay, and they might hold some appeal to Halladay, whose offseason home is very close to Clearwater, Fla., where the Phillies hold spring training. The Cardinals, especially if they don't re-sign Matt Holliday, could be a player, given how close Halladay is with Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, a former teammate in Toronto.

And while the Dodgers were said to be in talks with the Jays, it's the other L.A. team, the Angels, that has made Halladay a prime target, according to one major league executive not affiliated with either club.

The Angels, who are likely to lose John Lackey to free agency, have made Halladay "their No, 1 priority, according to their people I've talked to,'' the executive said. "They can give Toronto a shortstop [Maicer Izturis or Erick Aybar], a catcher in [Mike] Napoli, and also have young pitching in their system. Those are all things the Blue Jays need. There could be a match there.

"And Arte [Moreno, the Angels' owner] definitely has the money to sign him to an extension.''

But the Red Sox will be there, with a track record of being able to trump the field in pulling off deals for Martinez, Schilling and Beckett. A long shot? Perhaps, especially since Anthopoulos probably will be inclined to move Halladay out of the division, all things being equal. But this is one that bears close watching.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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