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.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.
Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.
Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.
As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.
Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.
Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?
We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.