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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The End of an Era

Buster Olney makes the argument over at that the Blue Jays "must" trade Roy Halladay now or they risk ending up with a lukewarm package of prospects like the one the Twins got from the Mets for Johan Santana a couple years ago. He reports that the Rogers Centre was full of salivating scouts this afternoon as Halladay dominated an excellent Red Sox lineup and won another duel against the Ace of a divisional rival (this time it was Jon Lester). I had to wonder, as Halladay polished off yet another complete game by eliminating Big Papi, Jason Bay, and Jacoby Ellsbury in order, whether he was saying farewell to Toronto and the team he's made 273 starts for over the last decade. The ovation which last throughout the 9th suggested that loyal Toronto fans sense they might be saying goodbye to the face of the franchise.

The complete game victory has become Hallday's trademark. The 44 he's hurled since 1999 is easily the most by any pitcher during that span. Saturday's masterpiece was vintage Halladay as he managed to defeat one of the most patient teams in baseball using only 105 pitches. He controls his viciously biting arsenal to a degree which is almost unfair (his K/BB rate this season is 113 to 17). Pitches are liable to bite in any direction, on any count, regardless of the hitter he's facing (Ellsbury, who has the 8th lowest strikeout rate in the AL, was utterly fooled by Halladay's last cutter, which started belt-high on the outside edge and dove toward his shoelaces).

It wasn't until today that I became convinced that Doc was actually going to be trade,d not because of Olney's column or any "necessity" from the perspective of the Jays, but because, clearly, Doc is tired of waiting for his chance at a ring. He's always been good, but he's never been better than he is right now, and perhaps never will be. Other than Albert Pujols, one could easily argue that he is the single most valuable commodity in all of baseball, which is why it is so difficult to imagine the Blue Jays getting a fair deal. If he were to move to the NL, I would be surprised if Halladay didn't duplicate or even improve upon C. C. Sabathia's run of dominance in the second half of 2008.

So, of course, the question everybody is asking, where will he end up? The Jays will be reluctant to trade Doc where he might haunt them for years to come, in other words, the AL East. The Dodgers might be a nice fit, but all of L.A.'s major-league ready talent is currently contributing to the major-league roster, which means the pieces for a deal probably aren't there. The same is probably true of the White Sox and Tigers. Which leaves...

1.) Philadelphia Phillies

Let's get something straight. Pitchers like Halladay are not intimidated by ballparks. The opposing pitcher, after all, has to deal with the same conditions. What Halladay sees when he looks at the Phillies is not only a proven World Series pedigree, but also the two qualities which he obviously covets. Halladay is at his best when he can relax, work quickly, and pitch to contact. The Phillies have a potent offense, which means he will grow much more accustomed to pitching with a lead, which is obviously when he is most dominant (this afternoon Halladay allowed five of his six baserunners in the first three innings). The Phillies also have terrific defenders around the diamond, including probably the best infield in baseball with Jimmy Rollins (#1 SS according to John Dewan's Fielding Bible), Chase Utley (#1 2B according to Dewan), Pedro Feliz (#2 3B according to Dewarn), and an improved Ryan Howard (besides slimming down, Howard has improved his Ultimate Zone Rating in each of the last three seasons).

The Phillies organizational depth is ranked #12 by Baseball America, which means they have a fair amount of top prospects which Toronto might covet. The prizes are starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (107 K in 108 IP at AAA, but only 4.97 ERA), outfielder Michael Taylor (.333, 15 HR, 18 SB, 977 OPS at AAA), outfielder Dominic Brown (.307, 9 HR, 14 SB, 916 OPS at A), and starting pitcher Kyle Drabek (9-2, 2.83 ERA at A & AA). It will likely take two of them, along with somebody like J.A. Happ, Lou Marson, or Sergio Escalano to lure Halladay away from the Jays.

2.) Milwaukee Brewers

Last year Doug Melvin turned Matt LaPorta into half a season of C. C. Sabathia. This year he could probably turne Alcides Escobar and Mat Gamel into a season and a half of Roy Halladay. However, those two players are currently on track to take over everyday positions for the Brewers in 2010. Will Melvin be willing to endure several more years of Bill Hall, Craig Counsel, etc. in the starting lineup in order to bring in an Ace. I argue that he should. Halladay would take the pressure off of Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra, as well as make Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush more or less expendable in the postseason. Escobar and Gamel are good prospects, but Doc Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball. The Brewers aren't going to be able to keep their core of young players together permanently. It would be good for Milwaukee if they made a serious run now.

3.) Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are a bit of a darkhorse as far as the rumor mill has been concerned so far, but they make as much sense as anybody. Time is running short for this Cubs team as Lee, Soriano, Ramirez, Bradly, and Lilly are all obviously entering the backstretch of their careers. Pinella is only signed through 2010 (same for Lee, Lilly, and Bradley), which means if the Cubs don't bring home a pennant this year or next, they are probably going to have to re-shuffle to deck before they make another serious run. By acquiring Halladay they would lessen the anxiety that accompanies every start by Rich Harden (and, to a lesser extent, Carlos Zambrano). It would also allow Sean Marshall to stay in the bullpen (his ERA as a reliever is 1.47, compared to 4.87 as a starter). And, perhaps most importantly, they would keep Halladay away from divisional rivals Milwaukee and St. Louis.

The Cubs farm system isn't exactly deep, but they've got a couple of premier prospects: Josh Vitters (.302, 15 HR, 831 OPS at A) and Jeff Samardzija (5-3, 3.72 at AAA). They also have a nice selection of major-league guys like Jeff Baker, Chad Fox, and Micah Hoffpauir who are still relatively young (and cheap), but have proved they can be good, if not great, at the top level. Jim Hendry might be more prepared than any GM in baseball to lay all his cards on the table in order to find the final piece of the puzzle. The Cubs don't have much to lose at this point.

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