The Tenth Inning – Week 16 ]]> include($base_url . “/includes/header.htm”); ?>
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The trading deadline is Friday, and while some teams have already made deals (Boston-Adam LaRoche; St. Louis-Matt Holliday) and other smaller deals are likely to happen, most of the talk has been surrounding a big-name player for the second year in a row. After the Red Sox “yes we did, no we didn’t, yes we did” dance with the Manny trade last July 31, the story has shifted to a different AL East team, as now the Toronto Blue Jays are dangling Roy Halladay for any and all takers. The rumors have the Phillies as the primary partner in a potential deal, but so far the two sides have yet to work out an acceptable agreement.
The whole issue leads me to just one question. Why?
Obviously the Blue Jays would love to unload Halladay’s salary for both this year and next, as well as get back top prospects in return. Likewise, the Phillies could desperately use Doc’s services in a year where they have seen their pitching drop off dramatically from 2008 and watched as other teams – namely the aforementioned Cardinals – have made deals to strengthen their own weaknesses. Those aren’t my questions. Those are the things that MAKE sense.
The things that DON’T make sense are two-fold, so hold on cause I’m about to get a bit long-winded.
First, if you’re the Phillies, why haven’t you thrown J.A. Happ and Kyle Drabek, the two players the Blue Jays are adamant that they receive in return, together with another prospect or two and finished this deal already? They see the Braves are getting hot, right? Are they waiting until the entire Mets roster returns from the medical center and onto the field before they pull the trigger? Halladay is one of the top five pitchers in the game right now, he’s under contract for this year AND next, and last I checked the Phillies have a grand total of no one with a full year of major league experience and an ERA under 4.00 in the starting rotation. I’m not a Phillies fan (in fact it’s a toss-up between them and the Yankees for my least-favorite MLB team) and even I want them to make that deal just for the sake of baseball sanity everywhere.
The flip-side is that this is possibly the wimpiest organization in baseball when it comes to making big-time trades, either mid-season or offseason. Look at the 2008 roster – six of the eight starters (Victorino, Utley, Rollins, Howard, Ruiz, and Burrell) were products of the Phillies farm system. The team used seven starters last season, four of which (Hamels, Myers, Kendrick, and Happ) have only ever played in Philadelphia. Even the bullpen, with Condrey and Madson, had homegrown talent. As for the rest of the team, Feliz was a trade-off with the Giants – he signed with the Phillies after former Phils’ CF Aaron Rowand signed with the Giants. Jayson Werth was a scrap heap pick up from the Dodgers, who had non-tendered him. Likewise, Chad Durbin was a Texas Rangers giveaway, J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre were designated for assignment by the Red Sox and Cubs, respectively, and Geoff Jenkins wasn’t exactly a coveted free agent. The Phillies had made minor trades to bring in Moyer, Stairs, and Blanton, meaning the only big-time trade that they had made in building the World Series-winning team was the Brad Lidge deal, which even still was a situation in which Houston was looking to move him for a change of scenery. The Phillies have a history of overvaluing their own talent and not pulling the trigger on a big-time deal. Perhaps the talent evaluators have gotten better or they simply got lucky that such a large number of prospects have become key figures for the organization, but there’s a reason this club has more losses than any franchise in baseball history.
Now on to point two – even if they get both Happ and Drabek (which looks increasingly unlikely), the Blue Jays – and specifically General Manager J.P. Riccardi – are nuts to deal Roy Halladay right now. As I mentioned, he’s a top five pitcher. You can’t just give him away for pennies on the dollar if you’re Toronto. Clearly, it will be nearly impossible to get an equal deal for someone of that caliber (ask Minnesota) but the chances increase dramatically in the offseason. It’s the exact reason that the Twins waited until the winter before Johan Santana’s contract expired to trade him. Here’s why:
Right now, a solid 10-15 teams are entirely or nearly out of playoff contention, including the team in the NL with the highest payroll. Not a single one of those teams will trade for Halladay now. Likewise, out of the remaining 15-20 teams, only a handful (Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and Angels) can realistically afford to add someone with that salary for both this season AND next season. Of those five, two teams (NY and Boston) are last-resorts for Toronto because they play in the same division. That leaves the Jays with three potential trading partners, two of which (both LA teams) would likely make Toronto take some sort of salary back or at least make the Jays pick up some of whatever else Doc is owed for this year and/or next. Thus why everyone has been speculating Halladay-to-Philly – it’s really the only option for Riccardi, and the Phillies know it. That’s why they HAVEN’T met Toronto’s demands yet, because they know it’s either Philadelphia or Toronto right now, and if they don’t land him by July 31 they can still take a shot at him in December or January.
If the Jays wait, however, until the winter, it would put teams like the Mets, Cubs, Tigers, White Sox, Braves, Giants, Cardinals, Mariners, and Diamondbacks all back into contention to land the right-hander. Each of them would have much more salary flexibility to add $15+ million to their books by allowing other contracts to expire (the Mets would be a classic case, with Wagner, Putz, and Delgado all up for free agency) and still have a team able to compete. Also, in the case of the Mets and Diamondbacks, they would be gearing up for a new season with dreams of competing as opposed to their current situation, where both will miss the playoffs barring a miracle. Thus the Jays could play teams off of each other and drive the price up for Halladay, actually getting more than they would right now. It’s not like Toronto desperately needs to deal him at all – they can trot him out another 10 times this year and 35 more next season and get their money’s worth. The trades last year of Santana to the Mets and Holliday to the A’s, however, should be proof that it’s always better to trade a bonafide star in the offseason as opposed to at the deadline, especially when the star makes a nice chunk of money.
Halladay to the Phillies is a logical fit and should, from the Phillies standpoint, happen in the next four days if there is to be another October parade down Broad Street. For Toronto’s sake, though, they should wait until the offseason, when they will be able to get much more for one of the game’s best hurlers than they would today.
Last week’s answer: The 1991 Minnesota Twins are the only team to win the World Series the year after finishing in last place. It was guaranteed to happen that year, however: the team they beat in the World Series, the Atlanta Braves, had also finished last in 1990.
2009 Playoff “Dead List”
Also, as a side note, if the Rockies would please go back to losing games so as not to snap my streak of never declaring a team “dead” that wound up making the playoffs, that would be fantastic.
This week, watch for…
Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper
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