While the Phillies remain almost everyone's favorite to land superstar pitcher Roy Halladay, and the best-in-baseball Dodgers are now believed to be showing interest, two big-market contenders for the summer's big pitching prize -- the Yankees and Red Sox -- recently have been informed by the Blue Jays that their chances to land Halladay are slim.
Executives familiar with the trade talks say Jays people told the Yankees and Red Sox that they prefer to deal Halladay -- if he's dealt at all -- to a team outside their division. Further proving their point, the Jays haven't followed up recently on a Yankees call expressing interest 10 days ago.
Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi won't publicly rule out an intra-divisional blockbuster, but a directive to look elsewhere first may come from above. This is such a big deal, one competing executive said, that acting club president Paul Beeston and ownership are heavily involved.
Even after their just-completed signing of the Cooperstown-bound Pedro Martinez, the Phillies are still seen by competitors as the logical winner of the derby for several reasons, including: 1) they seek a front-line starter; 2) they have the money to spend on Halladay, who makes $14.25 million this year and will earn $15.75 million next year; and 3) they possess the prospects to form a more than decent package.
But while Phillies GM Ruben Amaro has publicly suggested they view top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek (son of Doug) as untouchable, some competing execs say they believe the Jays would be obligated to insist on Drabek, who flashed his eye-popping talent (he throws a dynamic curveball) in the Futures Game in St. Louis. "Any trade they make would have to start with Drabek,'' one competing executive opined. "How do the Jays do a deal for this player and go back and tell their fans they didn't get the other team's best prospect?''
"This trade is going to have to hurt somebody,'' another executive with an interested team maintained.
One Jays-connected person suggested at the start that the Jays actually may not insist on Drabek due to his past arm trouble (he had Tommy John surgery) and a reputation for cockiness. But while the Phillies have a deep reserve of prospects and young players (pitchers J.A. Happ, Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp; outfielders John Mayberry Jr., Dominic Brown and Michael Taylor; catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald), most others see Drabek as the clear gem of the system.
The Dodgers have a bevy of talented young players who could interest the Jays. The potential issue for the Dodgers is that most of those young players are already producing at the big-league level and contributing to the team that has held baseball's best record almost from the start of the season. "(The Jays) would want something from the Dodgers' major-league roster,'' one competing executive opined
The Dodgers surely wouldn't want to subtract from their rotation by offering ace pitcher Chad Billingsley or 21-year-old Clayton Kershaw, and might also have difficulty including either of their young outfield talents, Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier -- though they do have veteran Juan Pierre waiting to fill in ably. Without the inclusion of Kemp or Ethier, it's questionable whether L.A. could entice the Jays with young pitcher James McDonald, pitching prospects Ethan Martin and Josh Lindblom, shortstop Ivan DeJesus Jr. and a few others.
The Angels are focused on pitching and remain interested in Halladay, but their top prospects, infielders Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez and pitchers Jordan Walden and Trevor Reckling, may not be enough. St. Louis, one place Halladay figures to approve considering his close relationship with Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter, would almost surely have to include coveted third base prospect Brett Wallace, and that still may not be enough, according to a Jays-connected person. The Giants, Brewers, White Sox, Rangers and Tigers are among other parties believed to have interest.
Some executives privately question whether the Jays can get enough to justify dealing a true ace, but rare is the time when a team dangles such a star only to pull him back. Though two executives still flat out said on Thursday they don't believe Halladay will be dealt. Halladay's comments at the All-Star break seemed to indicate he is willing to go to team with a better chance at the postseason, and he himself put the chances for a deal at 50-50. His mention of wanting to try hitting in the National League was especially interesting. Would the Jays prefer to exclude the entire AL?
It's a tough call for the Jays either way.
"It's a negative if they trade him, and a negative of they don't,'' one competing executive said.
The Jays apparently think things will get a little too negative around Toronto if they deal him to the archrival Yankees or Red Sox. While teams are generally leery to deal a star within the division, in this case it would be especially painful since the Jays perennially have to peer up at the big-market Yankees and Red Sox in the standings.
Though it would take a haul for anyone to acquire Halladay (Toronto is said to be asking for four prime prospects, including two who will be big-league ready by next year), the Jays apparently aren't now insisting that any acquiring team take on Vernon Wells' onerous contract. At least two GMs from big-market teams say there has been no suggestion the Jays would require, expect or even hope that anyone would take Wells and the $90 million remaining on his bad deal off their hands. That in itself shows Toronto is serious and realistic about this undertaking.
While the Yankees remain interested, one more major factor looms as an impediment to a deal. The Yankees are reluctant to "gut their system,'' according to one rival executive. The Yankees could easily form a nice trade package by including one of two young talented right-handers -- Joba Chamberlain and/or Phil Hughes -- plus catching prospect Jesus Montero and outfield prospect Austin Jackson.
However, the Yankees and Red Sox -- who have coveted young pitchers Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, Junichi Tazawa, Daniel Bard, Justin Masterson, Casey Kelly and Manny Delcarmen -- both have grown significantly more protective in recent years of their farm systems. So neither would seem willing to pay the high premium Toronto would seek to deal with them.
The Dodgers already have one of the best pitching staffs in baseball -- statistically speaking, anyway. But they are looking for relief now. And their excellent performance thus far also won't prevent them from trying to enhance their playoff rotation with a major pitching pickup, which explains why Halladay and Cliff Lee apparently head their wish list of starting pitchers.
Of course, L.A. will have stiff competition for Halladay, and Lee's chances to be dealt still appear remote. One person familiar with the Indians' thinking said they are even more reluctant to trade Lee than beloved slugger Victor Martinez. Both players have 2010 options at club-friendly prices ($9 million for Lee, $7 million for Martinez), and while Martinez is a wonderful clubhouse presence, Lee is viewed as perhaps even more valuable to them because they don't have pitching reinforcements who could replace Lee. If the Indians were to deal either star, they'd insist on young pitching in return.
If Halladay and Lee can't be had, it's possible the Dodgers could consider one of two Seattle starters -- Jarrod Washburn or Erik Bedard -- should the Mariners fall out of the race. Beyond that, there won't be much else out there that could help them.
• Top Red Sox pitching prospect Clay Buchholz has slipped a bit in recent starts, so the timing of his ascension to the bigs seems a tad curious. However, the Red Sox are wise to give him a big-league start Friday since it rewards him for an excellent first half and may help prevent him from becoming discouraged by his current plight as a pitcher ready for the big leagues who spent the entire first half in the minors. Buchholz's start also provides extra rest to the Red Sox's rotation. "They are very good about making sure their guys are rested,'' one competing executive said.
• Buchholz also heads every other team's list of preferred trade targets. But there are others. One competing executive said regarding the Red Sox's ability to produce prospects, "They are a machine.''
• Boston's Mike Lowell and Jed Lowrie are expected back soon. But Daisuke Matsuzaka will still be awhile, sources say.
• The Yankees tried to trade for Jeff Francoeur this winter, perhaps with the intention of flipping him elsewhere (Kansas City?), but were told no by the Braves because of Francoeur's popularity in his hometown of Atlanta. But Francoeur's continuing offensive struggles gave the Braves little choice.
• Francoeur's popularity was on display during his return to Atlanta with the Mets Thursday night, as he received a very nice ovation, with many standing, despite a year and a half of horrific production at the plate.
• Brewers upper management seems disappointed by the team's first half. Their fine owner, Mark Attanasio, isn't ruling out a run at a star pitcher, but things haven't looked especially hopeful for Halladay or ex-Brewer Doug Davis. The Brewers used their farm system to acquire CC Sabathia last year but seem to want to hold onto hitting sensation Mat Gamel and shortstop whiz Alcides Escobar this time around. With shortstop J.J. Hardy, the Brew Crew would appear to have depth at that position, though.
• The Nats may have new personnel and a new manager, but the result was the same in Jim Riggleman's first game at the helm. Nyjer Morgan was picked off first base by Cubs pitcher Carlos Marmol in the eighth inning with Nick Johnson up as the potential tying run.
• Good move by Lou Piniella to use the on-base-challenged Alfonso Soriano (.298 on-base percentage) in the No. 6 hole.
• If B.J. Ryan thrives with the Cubs in the National League, I'm going to think there's a real discrepancy in leagues.
• Congrats to Ryan Howard, who hit to 200 home run faster than anyone in history (658 games). Ralph Kiner's 706 games was the previous record.
• Business is booming for the Beverly Hills Sports Council, the longtime agency of Jeff Borris, Dan Horwits, Rick Thurman and Dan Lozano. They had then 11 players at the All-Star Game: Albert Pujols, Tim Lincecum, Trevor Hoffman, Brad Hawpe, Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth,Michael Young, Brian Fuentes, Aaron Hill and Francisco Cordero. They also narrowly missed with Mark Reynolds.
• The Tweeting continues at: http://twitter.com/SI_JonHeyman.