Joel Sherman: Hired guns: Cone, Sutcliffe and Sabathia offer advice for Halladay - Sports Illustrated

Hired guns: Cone, Sutcliffe and Sabathia offer advice for Halladay

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Think of the pressure inching closer to Roy Halladay.

If he is traded before Friday's deadline, Halladay would move to a new environment in which he will be asked to be nothing less than the difference-maker in winning a championship. He would have to perform this feat while familiarizing himself with new teammates, in a new town -- possibly in a new league -- with his family having to go through this quick adaptation, as well.

And, oh yeah, Halladay is a starting pitcher. He is not, for example, a position player who would get roughly 70 games and 250 or more plate appearances to prove his worth. He might have 13 or 14 starts to demonstrate that he was worth the cost in prospects, dollars and emotional and mental energy dispensed to acquire him.

So, how should Halladay deal with all the stress should it come to his doorstep?

"My advice would be to embrace it," said David Cone, who was twice traded in-season, joining contenders already in progress. "Even though you can argue he is the best pitcher, he does not have a high profile. His profile will be greatly increased by pitching in a pennant race in a major market. He should embrace the opportunity to showcase his skills and test himself at the highest level. I believe that this brings out your best, and that is what he should be thinking about."

Cone essentially was echoed in these sentiments by Rick Sutcliffe and CC Sabathia, who formed our quickly conceived panel of star-level pitchers who were obtained during a season and made a huge difference on playoff teams. This trio, along with Randy Johnson, make up arguably the best in-season rotation trades in history. All were vital in helping push teams to the playoffs, and in 1992 when he went from the Mets to the Blue Jays, Cone was critical in bringing Toronto its first championship.

Obviously, each case has individual elements. For example, in 1984, Sutcliffe pleaded with then-Cubs GM Dallas Green that he did not want to change teams, but that Indians teammate Bert Blyleven was desperate to move. Cone had no clue he might be moved in August 1992 until then-Mets GM Frank Cashen told him on the team plane the night before to stick close to a phone the next day.

But in 1995, Cone all but directed his way back to his adopted New York home by appealing to Blue Jays team president Paul Beeston to trade him to the Yankees. Sabathia heard his name in a bunch of rumors, but ultimately found out he had been traded not by an Indians official. Instead, his best friend in baseball and former Cleveland teammate David Riske had left a message to say they would be teammates again in Milwaukee. Sabathia listened to the message after leaving a movie with his children.

However, if there are a million stories in the big city when it comes to the rotation horse being traded, then there also were similarities in such transactions for Halladay to heed.

Like Halladay, none of the three had a no-trade clause, so none were truly in control of where they were sent. And Sabathia, in particular, said the less you can become absorbed in every rumor, the better. "It is tough, but just try not to watch any television. There is a part you can't avoid since a lot of people are talking about it around you. And for me, my agent (Brian Peters) started showing up on road trips, so that was strange. My policy became I'm an Indian until told otherwise, and I think that is how you must think of it."

Sutcliffe played in an era when the information did not travel in such quick volume on the Internet and all-sports radio. So he was not aware of much except his desire to just finish out the 1984 season with the Indians and then return home to the Royals the following year as a free agent. "I had asked my wife her top five choices for where to play next and she listed it as Kansas City, Kansas City, Kansas City, Kansas City and Kansas City."

So he thought the chances of a trade to the Cubs were dead since he told Green he would not sign a contract extension. Green, however, told Sutcliffe he didn't want Blyleven and traded for Sutcliffe, which led to the next problem that the three starters said was universal: Suddenly, you are in a new town forced to confront new teammates, new media, new routines and a new life for your family.

"A lot of people underestimate the little things as far as feeling comfortable," Cone said. "You have living arrangements and family. It would help Halladay if he went to a team where he knew some teammates and if the acquiring club helped him get through the initial day-to-day business. For example, don't take for granted that a player knows the best way to get to the park."

Perhaps the issue that all three agreed on the strongest was the need to quickly integrate into a new clubhouse. "Just fitting in with a new group was so vital to me," Sabathia said. "But that has always been the big thing for me: comfort in the clubhouse. Once you are acclimated and make friends then, man, the pitching is the easy part."

The assimilation is not always a given. On one hand, the new team is happy to have you. On the other, they have already done a lot of heavy lifting before your arrival. You have no collateral with anybody. Sutcliffe remembered the unease initially with Dick Ruthven, who was bounced from the rotation for Sutcliffe, and then the Cubs lost the first four games after obtaining Sutcliffe before he even pitched and "they were all looking at me like I was the black cat from 1969."

Said Cone: "You have to establish quickly that you are a team guy. You don't want to be perceived as selfish. You need to make it clear you are happy to be there, that you are thrilled to join a team already in a pennant race. At the same time, you have to establish early on that you are part of the team now and not just on the days you pitch. You have to show a willingness to be selfless and a team-first guy."

Cone did this as a Yankee by offering up his knowledge in pre-series pitching meetings, providing the perspective of a veteran from another organization. He remembers sitting next to Jack McDowell in the sessions and McDowell making it clear to other Yankee pitchers how valuable Cone's insights were, and how that made the transition so much easier. Sabathia did this simply by ignoring the Brewers' invitation to take three days to join the team. The big lefty was in the clubhouse the next day after being traded on July 7, 2008, even though he was not scheduled to pitch.

But here is the key thing after all the acclimation and niceties: "You better win, especially early, so nobody starts questioning why you are there," Cone said. Again, starters only participate every five days. So you don't want to have your first 10 days on a team, say, represent two blowout losses.

Sutcliffe won seven of his first eight starts, which he said even moved Ruthven to open his arms to Sutcliffe being a Cub. The big righty went 16-1 with a 2.60 ERA for Chicago, winning the NL Cy Young award. The Cubs made the playoffs for the first time since 1945 and Sutcliffe put away those K.C. dreams and re-signed with the Cubs as a free agent.

In 1995, Cone went 9-2 after being obtained by the Yankees, who sealed the wild card on the final day of the season and went to the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

Sabathia was 11-2 with a 1.65 after being traded last year, helping the Brewers to the postseason for the first time since 1982.

Could Halladay be the next to join this list of pitchers who changed a franchise's fortunes? It's far from a guarantee he will even be moved -- Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said on Wednesday that a trade is "unlikely."

"He has a chance to get a team over the top," Cone said. "He can be a difference-maker. This is an exciting opportunity. You have to look it at that way. This is a tremendous test of who you are as a player. I think Halladay would be up to that task, but you really don't know until you are thrust into it."