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Trade Winds: Dealing for Doc

A look at this season’s hottest trade commodity


Halladay

Halladay


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Faced with another 100-loss season in 1964, Mets manager Casey Stengel bemoaned the team’s dearth of talent in his now-familiar eloquence.

“See that fellow over there? He’s 20 years old,” Stengel said to a group of reporters. “In 10 years he has a chance to be a star. Now that fellow over there, he’s 20, too. In 10 years he has a chance to be 30.”

When the rumor mill began churning earlier this season regarding the possible trade of longtime Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, fans wondered which chance-to-be-30-years-old prospects their team could offer Toronto for the 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner. The impulse is natural; fans, general managers and fantasy owners alike always want to “win” trades.

Halladay, however, is the face of the Blue Jays, beloved by Toronto fans for his throwback demeanor and incredible production during an era in which the AL East has been overrun by the Yankees and Red Sox. The Mets, for example, never budged on their refusal to move Tom Seaver in his prime. Oh, wait

With that being said, here’s a look at the essential information for a trade involving Halladay.

What will it cost?

This may be conjecture until a deal is completed, but there are some indicators by which we can speculate. Normally, the trade that sent Johan Santana to the Mets prior to the 2008 season would be a fair precedent, but Twins GM Bill Smith was in an impossible position at that juncture, a rookie executive handcuffed by the not-so-secret fact that he had to move the ace. The paltry four-prospect package Minnesota received for Santana has yielded only one contributor at the Major League level, a fourth outfielder in Carlos Gomez. In addition, the worst economic downturn in American history since the Great Depression has left many teams hesitant to add hefty salaries.

That said, the Blue Jays are within their rights to expect a crop of four or five top young players for Halladay, at least two or three of whom are close to contributing in the bigs within the next year. Sorry, Yankees fans, Ian Kennedy, Melky Cabrera and Francisco Cervelli are not going to cut it. The conversation likely begins and ends with at least one of Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes, if not potentially both, as well as top outfield prospect Austin Jackson and catcher Jesus Montero. For the Mets, it’s hard to imagine Toronto entertaining talks without the inclusion of Fernando Martinez, Wilmer Flores and Jenrry Mejia in a base package.

What’s Halladay’s contract status?

Halladay extended his previous four-year contract (2004-07) by three years and $40 prior to the 2006 season, meaning he’s signed through 2010. He’s slated to earn $14.25 million this season and $15.75 million next season. A key stipulation to that deal, along with an endless supply of brown M&Ms in the clubhouse, is his blanket no-trade clause, meaning he can accept or decline a potential swap as he sees fit.

How does his contract impact trade talks?

Halladay is an attractive option for both playoff-ready teams like the Yanks and out-of-contention squads like the Mets because the buyer will have rights for a season and a half. The Bombers would be favorites to win the World Series this season and next if they could land Doc, and the Mets would go a long way toward bringing back a despondent fan base if they could sail into 2010 with the most formidable one-two pitching punch this side of Randy Johnson-Curt Schilling in Santana and Halladay.

There’s no reason to think Halladay won’t accept a trade, especially to a big-market club with which he can hammer out a long-term extension prior to hitting free agency, but players have been known to decline deals. Jake Peavy, for example, squashed a swap from the Padres to the White Sox earlier this season. Apparently, the prospect of losing 100 games per season is entirely bearable in sunny San Diego.

On the flip side, the Jays will receive draft-pick compensation should they hold Halladay and he leave via free agency. So long as Halladay is classified a Type-A free agent — and he almost certainly will — and Toronto offers him arbitration, which he’s equally certain to decline, it will be awarded the first-round pick of the team that signs him as well as a sandwich-round pick, which is held between the first and second rounds.

Is this a straight salary dump?

Baseball’s detractors will moan about the Jays’ inability to re-sign Halladay after 2010, and by all means it’s always nice to see franchise players stick with their teams. But Toronto is not a small-market team like Minnesota; prior to the 2007 season it heaped $126 million upon middling outfielder Vernon Wells, one of the worst contracts in recent memory.

More accurately, dealing Doc now would be cashing in on his value when it’s at a relative peak. The idea, with the Jays unlikely to contend in the AL East in the next couple seasons, is to hopefully recoup a crop of prospects and begin to model themselves after a cost-effective mid-market team like the Rays.

If Wells is shipped out with Halladay, and the Jays receive only a fringe prospect or two, it will have been a salary dump.

Which teams are in the mix?

Any GM worth his salt should kick the tires on Halladay. Of course, there are factors that make the righty a better fit in some places than others. Any suitor must have the package to meet Toronto’s demands, flexibility in the short-term budget for 2009-10 and perhaps the inclination and long-term budget to sign Halladay behind that. The most obvious fits are the Phillies, Angels and Dodgers, who possess relatively deep farms, deep pockets and are built to win now. The Giants and Rangers are in contention in their respective divisions and boast notably rich farm systems. The Yankees and Red Sox, eternally locked in a cold war of big-name acquisitions, have proven disinclined to part with their premier prospects in recent years, and the Blue Jays have expressed a desire to deal Doc out of the AL East.

The verdict?

Sorry, Mets fans, the Phightin’ Phils are the perfect fit for Halladay. They have the prospects to get him and cash to keep him, and are in dire need of another top-flight arm to pair with Cole Hamels in the playoffs

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