With a deal seeming more likely by the hour, let’s run through the candidates to pick up Toronto’s ace:
Yankees – Money isn’t much of an issue, and the Yankees certainly have the pieces to get a deal done between Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, elite hitting prospect Jesus Montero and outfielder Austin Jackson. Also, new Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has stated that he’s willing to trade Halladay within the AL East. If the Yankees are willing to part with Chamberlain and Montero together or Hughes and Jackson together, then they’d have easily the best chance of landing Halladay. Getting it done with just one of the first three players might be possible, but only if no one else steps up.
Dodgers – With Chad Billingsley to dangle, the Dodgers are the one team that can exchange top-of-the-rotation starters with the Jays. They’re not going to give up Clayton Kershaw, though. If the Jays want to stay competitive in 2010, a package of Billingsley and major league-ready players like left-hander Scott Elbert, outfielder Xavier Paul, shortstop Ivan DeJesus Jr. and catcher A.J. Ellis could trump anything another team would offer. The Jays, though, might prefer to build for 2011 and beyond, and Billingsley, who is eligible for arbitration for the first time, is going to start getting expensive soon.
Phillies – Able to hold on to much of their elite young talent in the Cliff Lee trade, the Phillies still have quite a bit to offer for Halladay. It’s doubtful that they’d be willing to send both of their top prospects, right-hander Kyle Drabek and outfielder Domonic Brown, to Toronto, but if they gave up one of those two, J.A. Happ and Michael Taylor, I doubt the Jays would turn them down. The problem is that a Halladay acquisition would push the Phillies’ payroll up to $135 million, and the team would still need a third baseman, a setup man and bench help.
Red Sox – The Red Sox would be in a better position to pick up Halladay if it didn’t part with Justin Masterson and Nick Hagadone to acquire Victor Martinez over the summer. It could well come down to how Anthopoulos feels about Clay Buchholz. If the Jays see Buchholz as a potential top-of-the-rotation guy, then the Red Sox would be able to build a package around him, one of their two advanced outfield prospects (Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish) and a couple of lesser pitching prospects. If not, then the Red Sox would likely have to trade closer of the future Daniel Bard and their No. 1 pitching prospect, Casey Kelly.
Mariners – With no elite pitching prospect or top young shortstop, the Mariners may be too short on minor league talent to pull off a Halladay acquisition. Brandon Morrow and Phillipe Aumont have big-time arms, but Aumont is a reliever and Morrow might be. The Mariners would probably have to part with both and outfielder Michael Saunders to compete with what other teams have to offer. Lefty Ryan Rowland-Smith is another to throw into the mix.
Angels – The Angels and Jays discussed Halladay at the trade deadline, but former GM J.P. Ricciardi held out for Erick Aybar and nothing got done. Unfortunately, the Angel farm system isn’t what it once was. Top pitchers Trevor Reckling and Jordan Walden didn’t help themselves this season, and there are no future stars on offense. Aybar would be a huge piece if the Angels relented and moved him, but barring that, they’d have to hope the Jays really like Brandon Wood, Mike Napoli and outfielder Peter Bourjos if they want to get something done.
Rangers – Halladay to Texas was viewed as a possibility at the trade deadline, and the Rangers certainly have the talent to pull off a deal. Halladay, though, isn’t thought to want to pitch in Texas, and owner Tom Hicks’ financial woes might make a trade impossible anyway. It’s too bad, since a swap of Derek Holland, Chris Davis and Taylor Teagarden for Halladay could work out well for both teams.
Mets – The Mets have so many problems that it would seem pretty foolish to commit $15.75 million next year and give up half the farm system to fill one spot. The Jays would likely hold out for outfielder Fernando Martinez, shortstop Wilmer Flores and two of the team’s best young arms.
The field – The Orioles have all of the young pitching the Jays would require, but even the addition of an ace probably wouldn’t make them more than a fourth-place team next year. … The Diamondbacks might have the cash to take on Halladay, but their farm system still hasn’t recovered from the Dan Haren deal. … The Cubs don’t have the money or the motivation to acquire an ace with their offense in shambles.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.