Baseball trades -- like so much of life -- are about timing.
And the time is right for the Blue Jays to trade Roy Halladay. Not just because he also is 1½ years from free agency, which is important to the decision. But because they reside in the AL East at a time when that is a particularly foul place for them to be.
Baseball trades -- like so much of life -- are about location, location, location.
The Blue Jays are not ready to win, but, at age 32, Halladay most certainly is. Making it to the postseason for the first time is a priority for the ace right-hander. Toronto can use the freed-up money and the infusion of prospects that would come from trading Halladay; Halladay could use October.
Baseball trades -- like so much of life -- are about wrong place, wrong time.
So there is every reason to believe that Halladay will be traded. Let's take these issues one at a time to examine why:
1. Timing: Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi has insisted that if he does not get the right offer he will simply hold on to Halladay. He has noted that Halladay also can be traded in the coming offseason or before July 31, 2010. That is true. And there is no reason why Ricciardi should accept 50 cents on the dollar.
And there are examples of teams that have successfully traded a player a half season before free agency. In 1998 the Mariners sent Randy Johnson to Houston in the big lefty's walk year. Seattle obtained pitchers Freddy Garcia and John Halama and shortstop Carlos Guillen in the swap; that trio helped the Mariners reach the ALCS in 2000 and 2001.
However, over the last decade, teams have become more protective of prospects and even more conscious of how they are going to spend long-term dollars. So it is hard to imagine that Toronto could get near the return on Halladay 12 months from now that it can get now.
As for the offseason, you might have a few more interested parties (since non-contenders are unlikely to deal for Halladay during the season). But you lose the desperation that a contending team feels right now. And more vital is that Halladay is the lone impact starter available.
This winter you will have a free-agent starting class that will include John Lackey and Erik Bedard. Also you could have teams more interested in protecting prospects and settling for a second-tier free agent who would just cost money, such as Jarrod Washburn, Doug Davis, Jason Marquis, Brad Penny or Bret Myers.
Also, a healed Jake Peavy will definitely be back on the trade market and Cleveland will probably listen to offers for Cliff Lee. And what happens if the Mariners decide that they cannot keep Felix Hernandez long-term and that his best value is being traded this offseason?
In other words, Ricciardi is probably never going to have a better combination of a less obstructed field with more motivated buyers than he does right now.
2. Location: If you're in the AL East you have to pencil the Red Sox and Yankees in for 90 wins annually. So you already are dealing with competition that no team in any other division faces. But now you can also envision that the Rays are in the midst of a three-to-five-year window in which they will be strong contenders to win 90-plus games a year.
And don't look now, but the Orioles are starting to build a roster that will have to be dealt with moving forward. They already have at least three significant, long-term positional pieces in Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters. And they have three of the most highly touted starting prospects in the majors in Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman. It's quite plausible to say that Baltimore is better positioned for the next five-year window than Toronto.
Ricciardi has suggested that the Jays could simply hold on to Halladay and contend next year with a rotation of Halladay, Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan and Brett Cecil, and a lineup built around promising youngsters Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Travis Snider. But that is assuming way too much, notably health from the non-Halladay portion of the rotation that Toronto simply has not enjoyed. It also means no regression from Lind and strong progression from Snider. And even in the best-case scenario there is still a strong chance that Toronto is not as good as the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays.
Thus for what may be a five percent chance of making the playoffs in 2010, Toronto would be running out the clock on Halladay to his free agency after the 2010 season and putting itself in position to receive two compensation draft picks in June 2011, who probably would not be in position to help before 2013.
Remember that the players Toronto would receive in a Halladay trade, for the most part, would be close to major league-ready, and the Blue Jays would know a heck of a lot more about those prospects' abilities to handle pro ball than they would about two 2011 draft picks because, of course, those prospects would already be playing pro ball.
Toronto has not made the playoffs since winning the World Series in 1993. Sure, it's tough to tell your fans that a new plan will require even more patience. But selling them on 2010 is like selling them on finding water in the desert. You might, but it really isn't likely. To have any kind of sustained run, the Blue Jays have to turn Halladay into three or four significant pieces that will help the next really strong Toronto team, which is 2011 at the earliest.
3. Wrong place, wrong time: Among active players who have never reached the postseason, Halladay ranks 10th in service time. In interviews at the All-Star Game this week he tried to be diplomatic, but between the lines you could tell what he was saying was that it is the right time for him to pitch in important games.
Maybe Halladay is the type who can stay a highly effective bulldog into his mid- and late-30s. But the likelihood is that he is in the back of his prime now. And he is running the risk of never performing in the most meaningful games at his peak. He has to see the reality that with the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East, the Jays are not contenders this year and probably not next year. So without a trade the first time he will get a chance to play for a potential champion is 2011, a season in which he will turn 34.
Halladay has been an elite pitcher for about a decade now. He has posted the kind of numbers -- 141 wins, 3.47 career ERA -- that, at the least, put him on a trajectory toward Hall of Fame consideration. He needs a few more years of excellence to legitimize his candidacy. But he also would be greatly helped if he played in either a bigger market and/or with a team that regularly plays huge games in September and October. For example, Curt Schilling's very good career is nudged significantly toward Cooperstown because of what he did in the postseason.
The Jays can act as if they don't care about such things; and obviously they must emphasize what is best for the organization. But Halladay has been the good solider for this franchise, a homegrown guy who has excelled on the field and has never caused any problems off of it. He has been a good teammate and ambassador. It would project the wrong message to everyone else on the team, or free agents who might consider playing for Toronto, if the Blue Jays do wrong by Halladay.
It is simply just the wrong place and time for Halladay to be in Toronto any longer.