Halladay: What we know, what we can discern, and why 2011 might be The Year

Angels Blue Jays Baseball
Which prospects would the Phils have to give up to land Blue Jays' ace Roy Halladay? (AP / File photo)

You have read the quotes, heard the facts, seen everything concrete the Phillies are willing to divulge about their strategy for fortifying their roster in the weeks to come. But rare is the occasion when it behooves an organization to open itself like a book to the general public. So now let's attempt to discern what they really mean, through deductive reasoning, background knowledge and a little bit of educated guess-work.

Ruben Amaro Jr. says that some of his prospects are "untouchables," even if one of them is the only thing standing in the way of a deal for a top-of-the-rotation former Cy Young winner like Roy Halladay. Do you believe him?

No and yes. I believe that he wants prospective trade partners to believe that. And I even believe that he wants himself to believe that. But you are telling me that if the Blue Jays came forward and said that they would trade Roy Halladay for Kyle Drabek straight up, plus pay half of Halladay's salary in 2010, that Amaro wouldn't even consider it? Much less strip down to his boxers and dress socks and do cartwheels in the Darien St. parking lot? Sorry, I don't buy it. Sure, the aforementioned scenario is unlikely. But that's not the point. The point is, there are no absolutes. There is a line between on and off limits, regardless of how extreme that line may be.

So you are telling me the Phillies would trade Kyle Drabek?

No and yes. If you asked me to handicap the odds of the 21-year-old righty being traded, I'd put them at 1,000-to-1. Not because of what Amaro said, but because of what Charlie Manuel said. As I wrote today in the printed product, Manuel is a man who is paid to win within the next three years, which is how long his contract covers. So when even he says that he wouldn't trade Drabek, and when he explains himself by comparing Drabek to Tom Seaver, it is a pretty good indication not only that the Phillies see Drabek in the same terms they saw Cole Hamels, but it is a pretty good indication that they think he will be in the major leagues by 2010 at the latest. And as much as a Roy Halladay might help their chances this year and next year, look at the rotation they are envisioning for 2011:

  1. Cole Hamels, $9.5 million
  2. TBA
  3. J.A. Happ, $2 million
  4. Tom Seaver (AKA Drabek) , $400,000
  5. TBA

That would give them three starters for a hair under $12 million. Which could set them up to spend big money on at least one top-of-the-rotation starter. Some names who are forecast to be on the market after the 2010 season? Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, Josh Beckett, and, yes, Roy Halladay. Which means any of those, plus unforeseen others, could be in Halladay-type trade situations by the middle of next year. Still under contract for that 2011 season will be Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins (assuming his option is picked up), Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino.

This is America, so I understand the impulsive nature that screams, "If not this year, then when?" And if Darren Daulton is correct and the world is going to end in 2012, then the Phillies could look pretty foolish for hording their Earthen Treasures. But 2011 still falls before 2012, and if you look at things from the perspective I just offered, then maybe the Phillies actually would have a better chance at winning a World Series by hanging on to Drabek and spending big money on a starter for 2011 then they would be trading away the farm this season for Roy Halladay.

Now, all of this is assuming that Drabek continues to progress as the Phillies believe he will, and that he stays healthy (remember he had elbow surgery in 2007). And it is assuming that Happ continues to be the solid No. 3/No. 4 that he has been. Which is why the faction who believes that you are better off trading an unproven-yet-high-ceiling for a "Sure Thing" like Roy Halladay has a point. But again, just like there are no absolutes when it comes to "untouchables," there are no absolutes when it comes to "Sure Things." Roy Halladay is 32 years old, and has just as good a chance at injuring himself as Drabek does.

So if Drabek isn't untouchable, at least by a strict interpretation of the word, why would Amaro and Manuel imply that he is?

It is called posturing, just like J.P. Ricciardi is doing by saying that the Blue Jays expect a haul -- start with two top pitching prospects and a solid position prospect and go from there  -- or they are not trading Halladay. Does any one really think that Ricciardi was suddenly struck by the urge to go on a media campaign announcing the availability of his prize ace? That he simply feels obliged to let the world know that Halladay is available, but that he is under no pressure at all to trade the righthander away? Sure, the possibility exists. But Ricciardi is a smart man. And he knows that Halladay's value will never be higher.

If Ricciardi has already decided that Toronto has no shot at retaining him -- and he has said that publicly -- then there are only two reasons he has to hold on to him:

  1. The Blue Jays have a shot at winning a World Series this year or next.
  2. (Halladay's Value in Tickets Sold - Value of His Replacement) > ($7 million - Value Sacrificed By Waiting to Trade Him in Offseason)

True, Toronto is within four games of a Wild Card spot. But look at all the other teams who are in front of them, starting with Boston, New York and Tampa Bay in their own division. Ricciardi may very well believe that hanging on to Halladay is their best chance at winning. And it probably is. But the people who pay his salary may have decided that a World Series is unlikely, and that it is time to blow the thing up and save as much money in the process, and then leave it to the next guy to start building again. Keep in mind, they just released B.J. Ryan. And there best chance at saving money is by dealing Halladay. The only way it would make sense (or cents) to hang on to Halladay is if the Blue Jays believe his presence (which, ostensibly, will maintain the consumer's faith in a possible postseason run) will sell enough tickets to off-set both his salary for the rest of the season (roughly $7 million) plus the value they might be sacrificing by waiting until after the season to trade him. And that might very well be the case.

But it does no good for Ricciardi to tell the media, "Hey, the Boss Man told me I need to get rid of this contract. And, sure, I'd love to pillage another team's farm system in return. But I'm realistic, and I know we'll probably have to settle for one top pitching prospect and not two."

In the same way, it makes no sense for Ruben Amaro Jr. to tell the media, "Hey, we love Roy Halladay, and we have for the last year-and-a-half. We really don't want to trade away Drabek, Knapp or Dominic Brown. But if push came to shove, sure we'd think about parting with one of them."

Keep in mind that Ricciardi is not the only one reading Amaro's words. So is every other general manager who is thinking about putting together a package for Halladay. And it does no good to show your cards to every one involved. If Amaro comes out and says, "No one is untouchable," then John Mozeliak in St. Louis reads that and thinks, "Well, if they are thinking about including their top two prospects, then we have have to top that." Amaro does not want to help drive up the asking price.

Nor, for that matter, do any of Toronto's rivals in the American League. Think it is a coincidence that a day after many national pundits floated the Yankees as possible landing place, some "club sources" told New York reporters that there was no chance they would be involved in the bidding? Brian Cashman doesn't want to be used to help drive up the potential haul that the Blue Jays can land.

But if the Phillies really want Halladay, doesn't a hard-line stance come with the risk of losing him to another team?

Absolutely. That's why this time of year is so intriguing. Because public comments must be measured against private ones, and the mysterious "sources" that leak information to various reporters must be determined to be valid or agenda-driven, and in many ways general managers are like the general public, not entirely sure of where reality lies. But, as they say, that's baseball. As much as we would like it to be black-and-white, it isn't.

So if they really want Halladay, and they don't get him, what happens then?

The same thing that would have happened had Halladay not been on the market. Keep in mind that, until the beginning of this week, the Blue Jays weren't believed to be actively pursuing a trade. There are other options out there. Keep in mind that the Phillies wanted C.C. Sabathia last year. Instead, they got Joe Blanton. And, as Amaro pointed out yesterday, there are an awful lot of ballplayers walking around Citizens Bank Park wearing rings that sure as hell didn't come from a Cracker Jack box.

So if the Phillies don't get Halladay. . .

There could be fringe consequences, both positive and negative. One thing the Phillies will surely consider is that St. Louis is considered a player. If they don't land Halladay, and St. Louis does, not only are the Phillies without the second top-of-the-rotation pitcher that it often takes to win in the postseason, but a potential playoff rival has one.

On the other hand, the Phillies stand to benefit from Halladay's availability, because it should diminish the asking price of other clubs who will be looking to move starters. If Dan Haren becomes available, Arizona will have one less suitor. And that trickles all the way down to the Jarrod Washburns of the world.

Supply and demand, baby. It's a beautiful thing.

Where can I get a copy of these magical "Prospect Rankings" that every major league team uses to determine value?

I'm glad you asked. There isn't one (Believe it or not, it didn't take years of covering baseball to figure that out). We are operating under the assumption that the Blue Jays value the Phillies' prospects the same way the Phillies value their own prospects. What if Jason Donald is the exact type of short stop prospect Toronto longs for? What if they don't even want Donald? What if they value Carlos Carrasco higher than Kyle Drabek? What if the Blue Jays covet Michael Taylor? What if they think Dominic Brown is vastly over-rated? What if they secretly want Gustavo Chacin back? There is a variety of evidence that suggests none of this is the case. But the fact is, the only people who really know how an organization evaluates talent is those in the organization.

Just something to keep in mind.

Did you really just spend two hours of a picturesque morning having an internal dialogue with yourself about a baseball trade?

Yes, but it's better than spending 48 hours locked in a press box dining room voting for Shane Victorino.