Commentary

The Roy Halladay buying guide

No holiday sale: Toronto probably isn't going to slash its asking price anytime soon

Originally Published: December 9, 2009
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

INDIANAPOLIS -- Well, we now know one guy who probably won't be going anywhere for the holidays.

A fellow by the name of Roy Halladay.

The not-so-dramatic finish line of another not-so-dramatic winter meetings is just over the horizon now. But it was becoming increasingly clear Wednesday night that the most available Cy Young in North America isn't going to be showing up on any winter-meetings transaction scoreboard near you.

Matter of fact, it's hard to believe how little we've even heard his name.

Then again, that's exactly what the Blue Jays wanted us to be saying this week about Roy Halladay: Roy Who?

[+] EnlargeRoy Halladay
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireThe Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox and Angels are atop Roy Halladay's list of preferred destinations.
And why is that? Well, just to recap here, in case you got distracted by NFL two-a-days and missed Round 1 of Doc on the Block in July, the Blue Jays weren't too thrilled that their attempts to deal their No. 1 starter before the trading deadline unfolded about as quietly as a space-shuttle launch.

So now that they've launched Round 2, they showed up in beautiful downtown Indianapolis determined that they would rather talk publicly about the big harmonized-sales-tax dispute than about the rampant availability of old Cy Halladay.

Which means, among other things, that we've heard about 1.3 zillion fewer breathless updates on this edition of the Halladay trade talks than we heard about for the last edition.

But don't take that as a sign that nothing much is going on. Ohhhh no. The Blue Jays are still trying to move this man. And they're still talking to about a half-dozen teams. And the price is still approximately as high as Bay Adelaide Centre. And still nobody, at this point, appears too wild about paying that price.

So what does that mean, exactly? Here's what:

"I think they'll be able to trade him this winter," said an official of one team that has talked to Toronto about Halladay. "I just don't think it will be here. And I don't think it will be any time soon.

"We're really just in the early stages of the offseason. So there's no reason for them not to set the price really high. I think there are a lot of parallels to the [Johan] Santana deal two years ago. The price at the winter meetings was a lot higher than the price the Mets wound up paying, if you remember."

Yeah, it's coming back to us, anyway. So let's see now. If Halladay isn't going to get traded at the winter meetings, and he probably isn't going to get traded until we finish watching "Rockin' New Year's Eve" and flip the calendars to 2010, then where is all this leading? Let's take a look:

The field

We've heard from multiple sources this week that there are no more than a half-dozen teams Halladay will approve a trade to.

His "A" List: Phillies, Yankees, Red Sox, Angels.

His "Maybe" List: Rays and Dodgers.

So what about the Mets? "I don't think he'd go to the Mets," said one source who knows him well.

And what about the other team sometimes connected with this set of Halladay rumors, the Cubs? Unlikely, we were told, but no definitive word.

So the possibilities for the Blue Jays aren't exactly endless. But that's still a longer list than the Twins were working with in the Santana Derby, remember. And all those clubs have at least inquired. So there are more than enough options to get something done.

The asking price

If we roll the clock back to revisit what the Blue Jays were asking for Halladay this past summer, you can understand why tensions ran high and tempers grew short.

Whoever your No. 1 prospect was, they were a lock to ask for him.

Whoever your No. 2 prospect was, they were guaranteed to ask for him, too.

And then the request line really opened for business.

Only the Blue Jays know for sure what they actually asked for, obviously. But we heard about four-for-one deals, five-for-one deals, even eight-for-one deals.

That was then, though. And this is now. Five months later, then-GM J.P. Ricciardi is gone. And five months later, it's too late for Halladay to make an impact on two pennant races because the 2009 stretch drive has passed into history as ancient as the Ice Age. So Halladay can put a dent in only one race now because his free agency is just 11 months away.

So the price, we're hearing, definitely has come down. Just not that much.

"It's different than July," said an official of another club. "They'll take less now -- in quantity. But the quality is still very high. They're talking top of the line. If it's three or four for one, it won't be an A, a B and a C. It'll be four A's."

And ideally, the Blue Jays want all those players to be young players or prospects -- guys who will work cheap for a couple of years and have massive amounts of service time remaining. The club won't say this out loud, naturally, but it's proceeding like a team that knows the way to go is to aim for a couple of years down the road. So players who can help them win in 2012 are a higher priority than players who can help them win in 2010. Which makes total sense.

But they also would take a young, controllable big league player, especially if he's a pitcher -- a Joe Saunders or Ervin Santana kind of guy for instance.

We've also heard that in the "right" deal, the Blue Jays would take a veteran player back if he's the right fit at the right price and he'd make it easier for the other club to say yes. It's still way too early to say exactly which players that might be -- whether, say, a Juan Rivera would be fine in an Angels deal but a Gary Matthews Jr. would be too pricey. But it shows a sense of flexibility that wasn't as present in July, at least.

The contract

There is now just one year left -- at $15.75 million -- on the three-year extension Halladay signed with the Blue Jays back in 2006. So for most of the clubs lining up to trade for him, his salary for 2010 won't be a problem.

It's what lies beyond 2010 that makes this complicated.

The Blue Jays haven't said for sure whether they'll open a window, to negotiate a pre-deal extension for teams trying to trade for Halladay. They've hinted that they prefer not to, in fact. But if it's a deal-breaker, it's tough to see them holding firm on that stance.

What no one knows, though, is whether Halladay is open to signing a pre-deal extension. Even the teams that are interested have heard conflicting reports about that. But one source who has known Halladay almost his entire career sounds skeptical that he'll be signing any extensions.

"I don't see him blindly signing with that team. Let's put it that way," the source said. "Money isn't going to be enough to get it done. For him, the chance of winning is more important than anything."

But geography might be a close second -- because when we asked where Halladay would most want to be, if he could pick any team and money wasn't an object, you might be surprised by the answer.

"If he could only pick one place? Oh, Philadelphia," the source said. "No question. He lives right near their spring training camp. It's an easy trip down to Florida to get home. They've got a great team. And it's not the pressure of New York -- not that pressure bothers him."

And what about the West Coast? Angels? Dodgers?

"I think he'd go there if it's a trade," the source said. "But I don't see him signing there [long term]."

So as this deal approaches, the teams with the shopping carts will need to be wary of the expectation that they'd be doing any more than renting this guy for one season. And just as important, the Blue Jays might have to adjust their asking price for the same reason.

The tote board

Los Angeles Angels When we surveyed a bunch of baseball men this month on where they thought Halladay would wind up, the same team came up over and over: the Angels.

They made a big run in July. Looks as if they're about to wave adios to John Lackey. They're overstuffed with young pitching and prospects. There have even been indications they'd be willing to trade shortstop Erick Aybar, a player they wouldn't even discuss this past summer.

The Toronto Sun reported Wednesday that the Angels offered Saunders, Aybar and outfield prospect Peter Bourjos for Halladay during these meetings. All three were believed to be on the Blue Jays' wish list in July, by the way. So the makings for a deal are there. But the Angels also have said that if Halladay won't sign an extension, they're probably not making this trade. So even if all the other pieces fit together, the extension piece might not.

New York Yankees Then there are the Yankees. Two years after they balked at making a prospect-for-Cy Young deal for Santana, it's fascinating that they clearly are still mulling the same kind of deal for Halladay. And they still think they have enough prospects left to make that trade, too, even after the Curtis Granderson deal, because indications are that the Blue Jays always preferred catching prospect Jesus Montero to center fielder Austin Jackson, who was dealt for Granderson.

But would the Yankees really be willing to give up Montero, and either Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, plus other pieces, for one year of Halladay? Executives of clubs who have dealt with them kept using the same word: "unlikely."

Philadelphia Phillies And what about the Phillies, allegedly Halladay's preferred destination? They've been noticeably coy on this subject, publicly and privately.

When we asked GM Ruben Amaro Jr. on Wednesday whether he thought a major deal for a pitcher -- such as, for instance, Guess Who -- Amaro replied (without ever mentioning Halladay's name): "Is there, in any way, a possibility? I guess there is. But is there a likelihood of us getting involved in something big? Probably not."

But that wasn't exactly a "no way." And even privately, Phillies officials never quite say no when Halladay's name comes up. Asked at one point whether he could see them trading for this guy, one of those officials answered: "We already have our ace (i.e., Cliff Lee)." But that's not a "no" either, now is it? Also, Philly has quietly let teams know that Joe Blanton could be available in a deal to free payroll space for -- well, maybe Halladay.

But despite all those signs, the Phillies remain as dug in against trading their top two prospects, pitcher Kyle Drabek and outfielder Domonic Brown, as they were this summer. So unless the Blue Jays back off, a more likely scenario involves the Phillies chasing Halladay as a free agent next winter if they can't re-sign Lee.

Boston Red Sox As for the rest of the list, the Red Sox haven't given any signs of dancing this dance since the Blue Jays reportedly asked for Clay Buchholz and fast-ascending prospect Casey Kelly. The Dodgers made another run this week and quickly concluded they didn't have a fit. And the Rays were always off-the-charts long shots, a team that landed on Halladay's thumbs-up list because of geography alone.

So …

Now what?

OK, let's assume the Blue Jays don't make a deal before they jump on the next airplane out of Indy. And let's assume nothing much changes in the next few weeks. Then their next big question is this:

How seriously do they take Halladay's better-trade-me-before-spring-training-or-else deadline?

"Let me ask you something," said an official of one of these teams. "If you were him and you were still in Toronto in July and your team was already out of it, you wouldn't accept a trade to a team with a chance to win? I think you would. And I'm sure he would."

Seems like a heck of a bet, especially if that July 2010 trade were to get pulled off as quietly as the Jake Peavy deal was this summer. But how willing are the Blue Jays to take that chance? And at this point, wouldn't they be better off just trading their ace this winter and kicking off the rest of their lives?

Well, we don't know how they'll feel about that scenario in mid-January, if the offers haven't improved. But the sense we get is that the teams in this derby are willing to hold firm and take that chance.

"It's still so early in the offseason, they have to keep that bar high for now," said one of the officials quoted earlier. "But eventually, they've got to move off it. And I think everybody knows that."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His new book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com