GM preps Halladay for potential trade

Updated: July 8, 2009, 2:41 PM ET
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has spoken with Roy Halladay and prepared him for the possibility that he will bring trade possibilities to the pitcher in the weeks or months ahead.

Halladay, 32, has a no-trade clause that will allow him to dictate whether he will be dealt before he becomes eligible for free agency next fall.

"He's open to at least listening," said Ricciardi. "He's not going to be a guy who will let you do all the work [preparing for a possible trade], and then he's not willing to listen. If it makes sense, he will listen."

The Jays' situation with Halladay is much like that which faced the Minnesota Twins during the 2007 season with ace Johan Santana: The left-hander was set to become eligible for free agency in 2008, and after Santana turned down an offer from Minnesota, the Twins dealt him to the Mets.

"I want to stay, but I think it's a situation you have to evaluate," Halladay said before Tuesday night's game against Tampa Bay. "I'm really not at that situation just yet. If something does come up, you weigh your options at that point. I hate to put the cart in front of the horse and start saying 'Do I want to do that?' I think you just evaluate the situations when they come."

Halladay is eligible for free agency after the 2010 season, and so the Jays essentially will have three windows of opportunity in which they could consider dealing the former Cy Young Award winner -- in the 24 days before the July 31 trade deadline; during the offseason; or next season.

"Really at this point, I just want to focus on my job here," Halladay said.

And the Jays have begun the process of casting a line in the water to see what they could get in return for the right-hander, whose work ethic is as highly regarded as his ability.

"We're not inclined to move him, but we're going to see what's out there," said Ricciardi.

Halladay has certainly piqued the Los Angeles Angels' interest.

"Tony has talked to a lot of clubs, and he's talked to Toronto," manager Mike Scioscia told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, referring to Angels GM Tony Reagins. "Obviously, [Halladay] is a name that piques the interest of everyone in baseball."

The Angels are looking for late-inning relief help, but would also love a front-of-the-rotation starter to enhance their playoff chances and provide insurance if they lose ace John Lackey to free agency this winter.

If Halladay walks away as a free agent after the 2010 season, the Jays would get the equivalent of two high draft picks as compensation, so that level of value would be a starting point for any interested team. Halladay would fit any team, of course.

Right now, the team most aggressively searching for a front-line starting pitcher is the Philadelphia Phillies, who no doubt would covet Halladay for their particular park for his ability to generate ground balls and missed swings -- he has a ground ball/fly ball ratio of 1.30, to go along 98 strikeouts in 116 innings this season. The question about the Phillies -- as it is with most teams these days, when the value of young players has never been higher -- is whether they would be willing to give up what the Jays would require in trade.

Halladay
Halladay

The Boston Red Sox could afford Halladay and know firsthand that he is capable of pitching effectively in the AL East -- something they and the New York Yankees doubted about Jake Peavy -- but Boston has stubbornly clung to its young pitching, and might be reluctant to trade a package of prospects for Halladay. The Yankees have been devoted to the rebuilding of their farm system, and would have to swap some of the young stars they have developed to get Halladay.

Both the Red Sox and Yankees dabbled in the Santana trade talks, but neither front office was fully invested in the pursuit of the left-hander, who was three years younger than Halladay is now.

The New York Mets may or may not have the caliber of prospects that the Jays would require to make the deal; the same could be said for the Chicago Cubs. The Jays would want one of the Dodgers' best young starters for Halladay -- either Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley -- and that figures to be a deal-breaker for L.A.

The Blue Jays began Tuesday at 43-41, seven games back of Boston in the AL East and six out of the wild card -- behind six other teams.

"All I can do is try to avoid that becoming a distraction and go from there," Halladay said. "It's a situation where, I think, if it's best for the team, it's best for me, then it just means you go from there. It's basically just saying this is an option that we have and maybe we'll look at it. I think that's really the extent at this point."

Halladay, who is 10-2 with a 2.79 ERA for the Jays this year, is earning $14.25 million this year, and will make $15.75 million next season.

Ricciardi was vague when asked if salary would be a factor. The Blue Jays' payroll is just short of $81 million, 16th out of 30 big league teams.

"I'm not so sure payroll-wise where we're going to be able to be after 2010. I'm not so sure that the player wants to stay here beyond 2010. I'm not sure of those things," he said. "So those are all things we have to weigh out. He's under contract through next year and worst-case scenario, he does not sign back with us and we get two draft picks."

Interim CEO Paul Beeston declined to comment on dealing Halladay but did say the team's payroll for next season is still a work in progress. The Blue Jays have $82.45 million committed to Halladay and seven others next year.

"We will be getting into it over the next month," Beeston said. "We'll be looking at next year, we'll do a three-year plan and a five-year plan as best we can project it."

The only salary commitments the Blue Jays have between 2011 and 2014 are to Vernon Wells, Alex Rios and Aaron Hill, worth about $40 million per season.

Buster Olney is a senior baseball writer for ESPN The Magazine. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine