Welcome to Arizona, where outside it feels like God left the oven door open. It is pretty amazing to me that Eagles training camp starts today, yet the talk of the town is the Phillies. And it is even more amazing to me that, despite the fact that the Phillies have won 16 of 19 games, the town could revolt at the end of the week if Roy Halladay is not introduced as a member of the club.
Regardless, the stage is set for one of the most interesting weeks in Phillies history.
Even more fun to watch than the Phillies right now is the game of 1-on-1 taking place between J.P. Ricciardi and Ruben Amaro Jr. Make no mistake - this is Amaro's first big test as a general manager. As hot as the Phillies are, they know they are taking a big leap of faith if they go into the postseason with Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton as their top two starters. And they know that if they land Roy Halladay, they will likely be the odds-on favorites to represent the National League in the World Series in each of the next two seasons.
Now, there is a whole lot of conjecture masquerading as fact when it comes to the Phillies situation. So I thought that I'd start the week off by breaking down what we know thus far, and what we need to keep our eyes on over the next six days:
1) We know that the Blue Jays are playing it smart by acting as if they have all the leverage in the world. On paper, Toronto does have all the leverage. Not only do they have several different partners from which to choose, they have the freedom to sit out this dance if they so choose. After all, Halladay is the team's most popular player, provides a noticable draw at the gate, is signed through next season, and surely can be moved in the offseason. Toronto is trying to say, "Look, we really don't want to move Halladay. But if you give us a reason to move him, we will." Hence, an asking price that starts with J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek.
2) We don't know if the Blue Jays actually have that leverage. From the time Ricciardi "let it slip" to Ken Rosenthal that Halladay was available, he has acted and sounded much like a man who is under orders to shed salary and shed it now. For the first couple days of Halladay's availability, Ricciardi spoke with every media outlet short of the Weekly Reader, insisting to each one that the Blue Jays would only listen, yet in doing so sounding like a man who needs to make a deal. We won't actually know what the case is until Halladay is traded or July 31st comes and goes without a deal. The Phillies are obviously hoping that Ricciardi is bluffing when he calls the chances of his ace being dealt "very slim." If keeping Halladay is a legitimate option, then the Blue Jays could very well hold out for a package of Happ, Drabek and top position prospect Dominic Brown.
3) We know Halladay will have value in the offseason. Obviously, an extra half a season increases his value for a team looking to trade for him. But he'll still command a haul if he is dealt after this season rather than during it.
4) We don't know how much that value will decrease. Keep in mind that the Blue Jays might have more bidders for Halladay in the offseason, when teams have more pay-roll flexibility and more freedom to allocate that flexibility. Let's say the Yankees or Red Sox don't win the World Series this season. Don't you think that would convince them to jump in the pool? The Rangers also have some contracts coming off the books, and payroll flexibility is said to be a big reason why they might not make a serious play for him at this point. So while Halladay's value might drop in the Blue Book after this season, the demand for him could very well counteract that depreciation. At the same time, the availability of other aces could increase the supply. Brandon Webb, Cliff Lee and Javier Vazquez are three starters whose contracts expire after the 2010 season.
5) We know Ricciardi is on the hot seat. Contracts for Vernon Wells, Alex Rios and B.J. Ryan are looking ill-advised at this point. A regime change is a very strong possibility.
6) We don't know how that is affecting the Halladay negotiations. There is a very good chance that Ricciardi was told by his bosses to see what he can get for Halladay. And there is a good chance that Ricciardi views a Halladay trade as the only thing that can save his job. But there is a good chance the only way it can save his job is if it is an absolute no-brainer for the Blue Jays. A no-brainer along the lines of Happ, Drabek and Brown. And there is a good chance that unless Ricciardi lands a no-brainer, his bosses will decide to keep Halladay for the rest of the season, bring in a GM to oversee the rebuilding effort, and allow him to play the market in the offseason.
7) We know the Phillies are considering other options. They scouted Cliff Lee last night, and have kept eyes on Seattle lefty Jarrod Washburn. Righthander Jon Garland, whom the team will face tonight, could be available.
8) We don't know how much pressure Amaro feels to add another starter. Keep in mind that Halladay was not even an option a month ago. And while every body is punch drunk right now on the prospect of adding Halladay, the Phillies were still a strong World Series contender before they had the chance to add him. There is a chance that Amaro decides that the team's best strategy is to fortify the bullpen with an arm or two. That would leave Pedro Martinez and Jamie Moyer a chance to establish himself as the team's fourth-best starter. And the Phillies would then count on Hamels finding his groove for the season's final two months, and Happ and Blanton to continue pitching the way they have for the past two months.
9) We know the Phillies think Kyle Drabek could be in the rotation as soon as next season. This is the biggest reason why the club does not want to trade him. A rotation of Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, Drabek and Moyer is something the Phillies envision as a possibility for next season.
10) We don't know if the Phillies think Drabek could be in the rotation or bullpen by the end of August. Obviously, it isn't a best-case scenario. But if the organization feels that standing pat and calling on Drabek in a month is an option, much like the Red Sox did with Jonathan Papelbon in 2005 and the Yankees did with Joba Chamberlain in 2007, it would contribute to the hesitancy they have to trade him as well as alleviate some of the pressure to add another starter.