When teams start down the tricky path of shopping a superstar, they rarely turn back, and the superstar usually goes somewhere else eventually. However, executives who have spoken to the Blue Jays' management team of acting president Paul Beeston and general manager J.P. Ricciardi remain convinced Toronto could still wind up keeping ace pitcher Roy Halladay.
Jays higher-ups have suggested to executives with other teams within the past day or two that they are concerned about the fan backlash in Toronto, which apparently has been significant enough for them to take note.
In the meantime, though, Jays people continue to talk to interested teams, telling them they seek two big-time prospects who'll be major-league ready by next year, including a prime hitter, and two very good prospects who are further away from the bigs.
Competing executives also seem to believe the Jays' distinct preference would be to send Halladay to the National League, and almost definitely not the Yankees or Red Sox. According to one executive with an interested team, the Phillies, Giants and Angels appear to be the three most likely winners of the Halladay derby. But that's just a guess, and it's very early in the game -- three weeks remain in the possible sale of baseball's best pitcher.
Both the Yankees and Mets have talked to Blue Jays higher-ups. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said publicly that they'll investigate Halladay, who's so good he's drawing interest from surprising quarters. Even the cash-strapped Rangers say they'll look into it. Executives say all contending teams are obligated to talk to Toronto, and first-place Texas definitely falls into that category. "We're going to look to improve the club any way we can," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said. "Beyond that, I don't want to say much."
While the Rangers may be in a better position than anyone to make such a move in terms of possessing the types of prospects required, their ownership is in such dire straits financially that their participation in talks may well be moot. Rangers owner Tom Hicks has needed MLB assistance to meet payroll the last two pay periods, according to sources, and is considering a sale of the team. In fact, a quick sale (unlikely at this point) is preferred by MLB. Under those circumstances, it would seem at the very least odd to acquire a pitcher who is making $14.25 million this year and $15.75 million next year, even if those are seemingly reasonable figures for Halladay.
The Phillies, who are negotiating with Cooperstown-bound pitcher Pedro Martinez, possess several prospects to do a deal. As do the Giants, who have premier prospects such as pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson, slugger Angel Villalona and catcher Buster Posey, plus a well-regarded shortstop Brandon Crawford, who could interest Toronto. But the bigger need of the pitching-strong Giants is for that hitter that's eluded them so far. The Angels, one team that truly emphasizes starting pitching, have been looking at various pitching possibilities, but Vladimir Guerrero's latest knee injury could also dictate that offense be their priority. The Angels are a model franchise and have money to spend, but as one competing executive noted, "This isn't [owner Arte Moreno's] style," referring to wild and crazy in-season moves.
Phillies GM Ruben Amaro already has suggested to Philadelphia writers that he doesn't want to part with top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek, who has "superb stuff," according to a competing exec, but also has a rep for cockiness. A Cardinals person told Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the inclusion of third base prospect Brett Wallace, an excellent hitter, could be a "deal-breaker."
But while it may seem odd that teams can make untouchable young players who have accomplished nothing beyond nice minor-league stats while the Jays are making available the majors' best pitcher, executives say deals can still be fashioned without the top prospect or two being included if teams have very deep systems. For instance, in the case of Texas' trade of Mark Teixeira to the Braves two summers ago, which provides a template for this one, the Braves made untouchable pitcher Tommy Hanson and outfielder Jordan Schafer but still executed a deal by including five other coveted prospects, including shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and pitcher Neftali Feliz.
For Halladay, theoretically Texas could try to do a deal without its top two prospects (Feliz and Derek Holland) by including several of its other very good prospects (they have a great hitting prospect in Justin Smoak). Although, some major-league executives suggest Texas' surprising pursuit is a pointless exercise since they believe the Rangers can't possibly have the money to spend on Halladay. Beyond that, one Blue Jays-connected person said he believed Halladay, who has full veto power, may not approve a trade to Texas because of bad past memories (the Rangers' Kevin Mench broke Halladay's leg on a line drive there in 2005) and the nature of its hitting park.
A suggestion's been made that the Blue Jays might ask any acquiring team to also accept the onerous contract of underproductive center fielder Vernon Wells as a prerequisite for Halladay. But executives have not heard this directly from Toronto and don't believe any team would take Wells, who has almost $90 million remaining on his $126-million contract, under any circumstance.
If any team agreed to take Wells with Halladay, the Jays "would do it in a minute," one executive with an interested team opined.
Another executive characterized the Jays' chances to unload Wells in two words: "No shot."
Martinez is talking to the Phillies about a contract for the rest of the year after impressing them in a throwing session Tuesday, and his longtime agent Fern Cuza said by phone that Martinez would have a decision by the end of the week. The Cooperstown-bound right-hander wants to sign soon so he can pitch the final two months for a contender.
One report out of the Dominican was that the sides already had an agreement for $4 million, but people involved in the talks said that was premature. Cuza's good (he signed shortstop whiz Jose Iglesias for $8 million-plus with the Red Sox and once -- along with partner Diego Bentz -- got $136 million from the Cubs for Alfonso Soriano), but it's hard to imagine Martinez getting $4 million in these economic times when his original asking price was $5 million for the entire season. Perhaps $4 million prorated (or closer to $2 million) makes sense.
Lately the Rangers have been the second team with the most consistent interest in Martinez, but it's questionable whether they could afford even a half year of Pedro now.
• Mets people met this week to discuss their top prospects, and which ones might be worth holding on to (though they generally believe it would be fruitless to mortgage the future now, with the team fading and so beat up). They like pitchers Jenrry Mejia and Brad Holt and slugger Ike Davis. But as Mets luck would have it, Mejia just suffered a finger injury.
• Mets manager Jerry Manuel's publicly stated objective to "tread water" looks like a pie-in-the-sky goal.
• Oliver Perez won his return engagement despite seven walks in five innings. Mets people weren't necessarily impressed.
• Still no timetable for Jose Reyes and his hamstring-tendon injury. Not good.
• The deal-making Pirates still have Freddy Sanchez and Matt Capps to offer.
• Xavier Nady had Tommy John surgery Wednesday and the goal is for him is to be back close to the start of next season.
• The Mariners, who are enjoying surprising success this season, have put off selling for a while as they gauge where they stand. If they do sell, pitchers Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn will be prime candidates to go.
• Good news on Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre, as he could be back in six weeks. They have talked to the Padres about Kevin Kouzmanoff anyway.
• The Mariners just signed sandwich pick and Miami high school catcher Steven Baron, who had a Duke scholarship offer, but aren't getting close yet on No. 2 overall pick Dustin Ackley, the former North Carolina slugger who is considered the top college hitter in the draft. Mariners people met recently with agent Scott Boras, who is seeking a Mark Teixeira-type bonus (about $10 million) for Ackley. That one, like No. 1 overall pick pitcher Stephen Strasburg, looks like it'll go down to the deadline.
• Unheralded first-half hero: Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair.
• Venezuelan third-base hotshot Cesar Perez, represented by the Greenberg brothers, was signed for $1 million by the Rays. Perez is only 16, so neither side is concerned that the Rays already have a third baseman named Evan Longoria.
• Great call by Andruw Jones to go to Texas to work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo when he had others offers (Yankees, Braves).
• Congrats to Rickey Henderson for having his No. 24 retired in Oakland. Can't wait for his Hall of Fame speech.
• Rickey is one of baseball's all-time great characters. And speaking of characters, I get 140 of 'em at a time on Twitter. I can be followed at http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.