Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Selling the farm for Halladay

The two early favorites in the Roy Halladay derby appear to be the Red Sox and Phillies. It should take about two seconds to figure out what those teams have in common -- and, thus, why neither should be all that anxious to swap the top three or four prospects in their farm system for Halladay.

The goal of every major-league front office is to win the World Series. Once you've won the World Series, though, that's when things get a little bit fuzzy. Some fans -- particularly fans in cities like Boston and New York -- expect a championship every year. Other fans would rather see a team that's in contention every year and not experience the roller coaster best exemplified by the Florida Marlins between 1997 and 2003.

That's what Theo Epstein has to think about right now.

Roy Halladay might be the best pitcher in baseball -- and if he's not the best, he's one of the top three or four. But he's under contract for $14.25 million this year and $15.75 million next year, and he's a free agent after that. He might demand an extension as part of any trade -- he has a no-trade clause he's willing to waive -- but, then again, he might be happy to sell his services on the open market.

To acquire Halladay, however, J.P. Ricciardi has said, will take a truckload of top prospects.

"It would take a lot for us to part with him," Ricciardi told the Globe. "We've gotten a lot of calls from teams but none of them are telling us at this point what they're willing to give up. If you're coming at us with a 'B' list of young players, don't bother. This is one of the five best players in baseball. It's going to take a significant package of players for us to even listen. So as the teams call we'll go through the ones we feel are the serious ones and then we'll start scouting their farm systems to see if there's anything we can do."

For the Red Sox, that starts with Clay Buchholz and probably includes pieces like Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden, Casey Kelly, Justin Masterson and/or Josh Reddick. For the Phillies, you're talking about a similar treasure chest -- including future ace Kyle Drabek, a first-round pick out of high school three years ago who has a 2.70 ERA in his first 46 2/3 innings at Double-A.

The Red Sox have an impressive foundation of young talent: Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis all are locked up at affordable money through 2012 or beyond. But those three alone aren't going to be enough to keep the Red Sox in contention -- just ask the Twins about trying to get to the World Series with two star position players and one lefthanded pitcher.

By trading Buchholz and friends for Halladay right now, the Red Sox would assert themselves as the clear favorites to win the World Series this season. The postseason pitching rotation of Beckett-Halladay-Lester would match Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine in its prime. It would be awe-inspiring to watch.

And, a year after that, Halladay could be gone. So, too, would be much of the minor-league foundation Epstein has worked so hard to build.

That's the risk you take. The Red Sox will have Buchholz under their control for five more seasons once he makes it back to the major leagues. They'll have Anderson, Bowden, Kelly and Reddick under their control for six seasons once they make it. They'll also have the opportunity to work out Pedroia- and Youkilis-esque extensions with all of them in the meantime.

If Halladay doesn't demand a lucrative extension -- he'd be right to ask for CC Sabathia money -- upon being traded, he'd likely pocket the $15-plus million due him next season and hit the free-agent market. Can you guess how much the Yankees would spend to get Halladay into their rotation?

When the Red Sox traded for Jason Bay, they knew they'd risk losing him if they didn't lock him up to a long-term deal right away. The Yankees have deep pockets and a need in left field, and they're likely going to throw far more money at Bay than he can turn down.

But the Red Sox didn't have to trade prospects for Bay. They traded Manny Ramirez. Nothing about the trade for Bay -- unless you still had high hopes for Brandon Moss -- affected the Red Sox's plans for 2010 or beyond.

Halladay, though, could leave after the 2010 season. So, too, could ace Josh Beckett. So, too, could slugger David Ortiz. Catcher Jason Varitek and third baseman Mike Lowell could retire. Closer Jonathan Papelbon could be a year away from landing a big-money contract elsewhere, too.

The Red Sox have poured the resources into the draft with an eye on replacing that big-league talent. Buchholz is a potential ace. Bowden is a middle-of-the-rotation guy. Reddick is an impact outfielder. Anderson is a slugging first baseman. At least three of those four would have to be dealt to Toronto in any deal for Halladay.

It all comes down to fundamental philosophy. Without Roy Halladay, the Red Sox are in position to be in contention for a division title every year for at least the next five or six years. With Roy Halladay, the Red Sox would be in position to win the World Series this season but would risk becoming a middle-of-the-pack team over the next five or six years.


Anonymous said...

Are the Blue Jays only hearing offers with prospects included. Maybe the Red Sox package JD Drew or a healthy Mike Lowell with one or two of their prospects so the farm is not totally wiped out and they still have World Series-potential.

Brian MacPherson said...

The Jays have no need for Lowell, whose health will always be a question mark, and probably can't take on Drew's money. But they'd certainly listen if the Red Sox started talking about Jacoby Ellsbury, for example.