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Halladay trade talk likely to top winter meetings bill; more notes

Star Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay, who hopes his current residence in trade limbo will be resolved within the next couple of months, will be pleased to hear that the Jays have engaged the Yankees in at least initial trade talks. According to sources, Toronto officials mentioned at least four Yankees players and minor leaguers that interested them when the teams spoke recently: Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, catching prospect Jesus Montero and outfield prospect Austin Jackson.

Executives with multiple teams who have spoken to the Blue Jays characterize trade talks thus far as "preliminary" and say they expect discussions to heat up at the winter meetings that begin next Monday in Indianapolis. Halladay has told Toronto he is considering spring training the deadline.

The Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets and Angels are all seen as having interest and varying degrees of ability to make a deal for the superstar pitcher. While the Blue Jays are controlling the action now, Halladay has a big say in where he goes, thanks to a full no-trade clause in a Blue Jays contract that was signed with a hometown discount. With that in mind, people who know Halladay say he is sure to approve at least the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies, based on his three major criteria:

1. A team that perennially wins.

2. A team that trains in Florida, preferably on the west coast of Florida, near his Oldsmar home

3. A team that perennially wins. (Yup, it's that important.)

With those objectives in mind, the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies look like the best fits. The Angels qualify under Nos. 1 and 3 but miss on No. 2, while the Mets may have an issue with 1 and 3. The one team Halladay was known to be cool toward last summer was the Texas Rangers, who train in Arizona.

But, every potential deal will be judged on a "case-by-case basis," Halladay's agent Greg Landry said by phone. So that means no one should be counted out yet.

The Jays' interest in Hughes, Chamberlain, Montero and Jackson (to clarify, they didn't say they'd insist on all four) didn't shock the Yankees, since they heard similar requests from Toronto when the Jays were shopping Halladay last summer. But the difference this time is that the Yankees and their rival Red Sox are considered serious suitors, as new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos wisely has made clear he isn't about to eliminate Toronto's intradivisional rivals -- who also happen to be baseball's two richest teams -- from the bidding war that's expected for baseball's most durable pitcher and arguably its best one, too. Halladay has finished in the top five in Cy Young voting the past four years, has thrown at least 200 innings in all four of those years, and incredibly, he has nearly three times the number of complete games over the past three seasons (25 to nine) than the next most durable pitcher.

Halladay is expected to be the talk of Indy in a year when the trade market is interesting but the free-agent market is weaker than usual, at least at the top. Halladay is a unique modern-day star who appears to have way more interest in winning than money, which makes him even more appealing. "You've got to meet this guy," one Blue Jays person said.

Nonetheless, competing GMs seem to believe there's a decent chance he'll seek a mega-extension even though the topic doesn't appear to have even been raised as yet with prospective teams. If he wants, Halladay, who is to make $16 million in 2010, could probably get a five-year extension for $23 million minimum per year, which is the yearly salary paid to Johan Santana and CC Sabathia. "He'd be crazy not to (insist on an extension). What if he gets hurt? He'd be dead," one GM said.

If an extension is part of the equation, that even makes it more of a Yankees-Red Sox game, as those are two teams that could afford the paycheck. One competing GM questioned whether the Angels would want to pay such an extension (though they quietly offered Sabathia at least $100 million over five years). The Mets already are paying one pitcher $23 million and have a multitude of other needs, and it would be a tight squeeze for the Phillies, as well.

Meanwhile, the Yankees had a boffo year financially (though they won't say how boffo), and their biggest need is for another starting pitcher. The Red Sox are baseball's second-biggest money maker and are also showing interest in a frontline starting pitcher, though their biggest need may be for a run producer, particularly with Jason Bay as yet unsigned.

So it's no surprise some baseball people are starting to see a Yankees-Red Sox competition coming here. A Yankees person suggested he suspected the reason it came out recently that he'd accept the Yankees could be because the Jays are "trying to get Boston's attention." Meanwhile, a Boston person said, "Toronto's trying to get a Yankee-Red Sox thing going here." The Jays are believed to be interested in at least a couple Red Sox youngsters: pitcher Clay Buchholz and superlative infield/pitching prospect Casey Kelly, who seems to be rising on everyone's wish list. "He has a chance to be special as a pitcher," one AL scout said said of Kelly. Though it's possible the Jays see him as a third baseman. The left side of their infield seems of particular interest to Toronto brass.

The Phillies can't be ruled out, either, although budget restrictions and other interests (like getting Cliff Lee extended) may complicate any possible pursuit by them. There seems to be a lot less buzz regarding Halladay around the Phillies than the Yankees and Red Sox, and GM Ruben Amaro has said their priorities are to fill their third-base hole (Mark DeRosa, Placido Polanco, Adrian Beltre, Miguel Tejada, Chone Figgins and Mike Lowell have all been considered) and to shore up their bullpen. The Phillies want to keep their payroll around $140 million, which would make it a very tight squeeze. One way to find a little money to pay Halladay's $16 million 2010 salary might be to consider a swap of Cole Hamels, whose bright star has dimmed a tad this year.

In any case, Halladay will be anxiously awaiting. He is said to have been bitterly disappointed to have waited through last year's talks only to stay put. That's why he doesn't want talks to drag into this spring or season. He and the Jays have made such a great team to this point, and he doesn't want anything spoiling that.

"It was such a distraction last year, not only for him but his teammates. That's something we want to avoid," Landry said. "There was so much hoopla. It didn't do anybody any good."

The smart money says the Jays get the deal done this time around, and they do it with one of their archrivals.

• The Red Sox remain interested in Marco Scutaro at shortstop. Scutaro told his hometown Venezuelan paper Diario Panorama that the Red Sox, Rangers, Mariners and Dodgers all have shown interest -- although some of those teams might be looking at him for another position (and you have to wonder whether L.A. can afford it, based on what's happening with them so far this winter.) Dustin Pedroia's comments to Peter Gammons showing strong interest in switching to shortstop were interesting, and it can't be ruled out as a possibility. But it still seems much more likely that Boston acquires a shortstop (Scutaro or Adam Everett are possibilities).

• The Red Sox were wise to insist on retaining the right to offer arbitration to Billy Wagner, as they will now receive a draft choice with Wagner immediately agreeing to a one-year, $7 million deal with the Braves, who quickly solved their closer issue.

• The most shocking call on the day teams had to decide whether to offer their free agents arbitration had to be the Dodgers not offering it to steady starter Randy Wolf (11-7, 1.10 WHIP). That could be an indication where L.A. finances stand. Anyone who thought they'd get into the Halladay talks must have been dreaming. This could enhance Wolf's value, though. The Mets, Brewers and Phillies are among teams believed to have some interest.

• The system for free-agent compensation still isn't fair to non-closing relievers, who are deemed not valuable enough by most teams to consider losing a draft choice over. At least this time many of the solid middle relievers who are Type A free agents weren't offered arbitration, such as Darren Oliver and Octavio Dotel. But Rafael Betancourt is one middle reliever who was offered arbitration and could suffer the consequences.

Jermaine Dye has drawn interest from the Rangers, Giants, Cardinals, Braves and Yankees -- though the Yankees' interest is dependent on other options falling through. The Red Sox, Angels and Cubs are seen as other, somewhat-less-likely possibilities for Dye. Dye's 164 home runs are the most by an AL outfielder over the last five years (and the third-most by any AL player, behind only Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz).

• It makes sense for Texas to have offered Ivan Rodriguez salary arbitration. They'd take him back, but they also know there's a good chance he won't accept. His base salary was $1.5 million last year. The Giants, Mets (though Bengie Molina's their top choice) and Royals have interest in him.

• The Yankees are still hoping to re-sign Andy Pettitte, Johnny Damon and perhaps Hideki Matsui after declining arbitration.

• The Yankees deny they are shopping Nick Swisher. But Yankees people also say only a few remain untouchable -- A-Rod, SI Sportsman of the Year Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Sabathia, Mariano Rivera, etc.

Brian Schneider (.218) was more popular as a free agent than one might imagine. The Royals were trying hard for him before the Phillies swooped in with a two-year deal.

Joe Crede is drawing interest from at least the Orioles and Astros.

• One GM said he thinks Rich Harden, who's about as talented as they come, should have to settle for "a series of one-year deals," considering his injury history.

Dennis Gilbert, who has emerged as the front-runner to buy the Texas Rangers, would become the second former agent to run a franchise, following Jeff Moorad, who's the Padres owner after breaking in as the Diamondbacks' managing partner. Gilbert is known throughout baseball circles for his Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for scouts in need. (Scouts generally don't make as much as successful agents.)

• The Tim Lincecum arbitration case should be fascinating. While the record for a first-year arbitration-eligible starting pitcher is $4.35 million for Dontrelle Willis (coming off 22 wins) and any pitcher is $6.25 million for Jonathan Papelbon, Lincecum could argue under the "special accomplishments" clause that he can compare himself to any player, regardless of service time, meaning he could use the $23 million of Sabathia and Santana as the comp (word is, it's being considered). A safer bet for Lincecum, who made $650,000 this year in winning his second straight Cy Young Award, might be to hitch himself to four-year pitchers Justin Verlander and Felix Hernandez, who will get sizable raises to maybe $9 million apiece for excellent, yet "inferior" seasons. This is a similar approach Ryan Howard used to win his case for $10 million: he focused on Matt Holliday at $9.5M and Miguel Cabrera at $11.4M, and placed himself smack-dab in the middle of the two players one class ahead. However, by trotting out $23 million, Lincecum could at least put a major scare into the Giants and force them into compromise. Because you never know how an arbitrator will rule, the rules do say he can compare himself to anyone, and he's been better than anyone else the last two years.

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