There are issues involved with the hypothetical marriage between the Rangers and Roy Halladay that weren't factors when Texas traded Mark Teixeira two years ago, but there are a few things instructive about the 2007 trade that, in part, helped put the Rangers in the position that they're now in, able to compete with anyone in terms of loading up an impact package of young players to close a huge deal.
Are we 2007 Atlanta? Or are we the ‘07 Dodgers?
And do we have to be either?
Before diving into that question, let's get two things out of the way, a couple issues that are not insignificant but that aren't really in need of too much analysis.
First, all circumstances considered, can the Rangers take on Halladay's contract? He's owed about $7 million the rest of the way this season; that figure will be just under $5 million when the trade deadline arrives. He's set to make $15.75 million in 2010. Of course, Vicente Padilla's $12 million salary comes off the books this winter, and Padilla, Hank Blalock, and Frank Catalanotto combined earn over $22 million that will be gone in 2010.
Yes, the Rangers have a number of arbitration cases this winter, but practically speaking, Halladay's 2010 contract is not so much the question. It's the balance of his 2009 salary.
Second issue to note, and dispose of: Would Halladay waive his no-trade clause to come to Texas? Johan Santana wouldn't. It's not so much a question of whether he thinks the team can win. Halladay, age 32, obviously has another massive contract or two in him (maybe one if he were to agree to an immediate extension with his new team). Though it's hard to imagine his stature as an established ace being threatened when that next contract comes up (as long as he's healthy), Rangers Ballpark has not been particularly kind to him. The opposing .799 OPS is the highest mark against Halladay in any stadium in which he's pitched more than twice, as is the 6.14 ERA. Is this where he'd want to be, since he has some control over that?
OK, let's assume Texas can manage a trade for Halladay financially, and that he'd accept a deal here.
Can the Rangers put together a strong enough package to land him?
Not as easy an answer.
There have been a dozen columns written in the last few days touching on the Rangers' place in the Halladay sweepstakes. Lots of interesting points have been made, a great many in common, but there were two in particular that took a opposite slants on a key issue:
Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News: "There is no need to start dumping prospects now. Yes, everyone loves to talk about how loaded the Rangers' farm system is. It's a good idea to keep it that way, at least for another year. Remember that most prospects in baseball, no matter who's [sic] system it is, eventually become suspects."
Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus: "At some point the Rangers will have to convert their prospect depth into major league players, and this is one way to do that. They would probably have to deal one of Derek Holland or Neftali Feliz, but then they could pull from further down their list and create a stronger package than anything most teams could assemble."
It's fairly self-evident, I would assume, that I'm a pretty big a proponent of minor league player development, but I gravitate toward Sheehan's mindset on this issue. In fact, I'd turn one of Cowlishaw's points back on him: Yes, most prospects do become suspects. That's part of the reason why you don't hesitate to trade some of them. Better to trade a kid too early than too late.
Stated another way: When Texas traded Ruben Mateo and Edwin Encarnacion to Cincinnati for the hugely disappointing Rob Bell, it hurt a lot more that the Rangers hadn't moved Mateo sooner for something far more meaningful than it did to move Encarnacion before he'd established himself as a true prospect.
My point: If the deal is right, especially when you've got such a deep inventory of prospects with market value, you have to be willing to move some of them. They won't all make it, and even if they all somehow did, there wouldn't be room for them all to make it here.
So for me, if the threshold question for some is whether it's indeed time for Step Five, my answer is yes, for the right player. Roy Halladay is the right player.
OK. Atlanta or the Dodgers?
Before launching into this, if you have a few minutes, give the first half of my June 18, 2008 report (title: "Why this could be a tough trading season for Texas") a glance. The premise: Because you can't trade draft picks in baseball, trade offers are rarely equivalent, and when a team with a top farm system like the Rangers is on the other end of the phone, particularly with a player like Halladay the one being shopped, the chances that a team would accept anything less than the top two or three kids in that system - even if competing teams would have trouble matching a package of the fourth, fifth, and sixth prospects - might be slim.
If this were the NFL or NBA, the price for a player like Halladay might be two first-round picks and two legitimate prospects. But when only players are involved, it's obviously all about which ones a seller can pry loose from a buyer, and when the commodity for sale is one of the game's very best pitchers, the leverage sits with the seller.
Especially when what's for sale is good for two pennant races rather than one. If Toronto does shop Halladay aggressively this month, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi will have taken a page right out of Jon Daniels's July 2007 book. As the Braves learned in July 2008, trading a year and two months of Teixeira was worth a huge amount more than trading two months of the slugger.
By all accounts, though a number of teams were in on Teixeira when the Rangers made it known that he was available, it came down to the Braves or Dodgers for various reasons, primary among which was the fact that those two NL clubs had the young players Texas most wanted.
We know what the Braves - whose GM John Schuerholz was quietly about to semi-retire - were willing to part with.
The Dodgers reportedly offered first baseman James Loney, outfielder Andre Ethier, and right-handed reliever Jonathan Meloan. Like Atlanta, they wanted a veteran reliever back, but while it was Ron Mahay that the Braves targeted, reports are that Los Angeles asked for Joaquin Benoit.
Apparently, Atlanta wouldn't give up Class A righthander Tommy Hanson or Class A outfielder Jordan Schafer, despite the Rangers' attempts to get one or both.
Los Angeles wouldn't part with Class AA lefthander Clayton Kershaw.
It's reasonable to assume that if the Dodgers had agreed to put Kershaw on the table, Teixeira would have been a Dodger, and Elvis Andrus and Feliz and friends would not be Rangers.
It's not all that unusual for teams to get impact deals done even when making their top prospects untouchable. The Mets got Santana without putting Mike Pelfrey or Fernando Martinez on the table. The Cubs got Rich Harden without parting with Josh Vitters. The Phillies kept Carlos Carrasco and Lou Marson when they traded for Joe Blanton.
Now, it's not always the case. The Diamondbacks parted with their two top (and arguably four of their top six) trade-eligible prospects to get Dan Haren (though they were getting three years of Haren control). The Brewers traded their top prospect to get C.C. Sabathia.
And no, Harden and Blanton weren't Halladay.
But Santana was.
Arizona and Milwaukee got their guy by trading their best prospects. The Mets didn't have to - but had the benefit of Santana reducing Minnesota's leverage by reportedly exercising his no-trade clause to kill talks with Texas, if not other teams as well. The Cubs and Phillies got their veteran starters and held onto their top kids. And so did the Braves in getting Teixeira, even though they still gave up a ton to get him.
The Dodgers, once you got past Kershaw, couldn't come out on top.
That's where the Rangers might be closer to the 2007 Braves, given the quantity of this organization's very good prospects. The big difference is that while Atlanta acted out of uncharacteristic desperation, given Schuerholz's status, Texas won't do that.
So can the Rangers propose a deal that the Jays would take over all others (and again, this assumes that the payroll implications and Halladay no-trade clause are cleared hurdles) without parting with the best this system has to offer?
Let's look at what Toronto needs. There are potential matches with Texas, unquestionably. Looking a couple years down the road (when the Jays will conceivably be without Halladay whether they trade him or not), it seems to me that the identifiable holes are at catcher and every infield spot other than second base, and of course they will demand and get pitching in any Halladay deal as well.
I'm thinking this is what I would offer, not at the outset but when it came down to bottom line time:
a. either Neftali Feliz and Mitch Moreland . . . or Justin Smoak (or Chris Davis) and Blake Beavan (or Tommy Hunter)
b. Taylor Teagarden
c. Wilmer Font or Wilfredo Boscan or Guillermo Moscoso or Omar Poveda
d. Engel Beltre or Mike Bianucci or Jose Vallejo or Joaquin Arias or Marcus Lemon
And I want reliever Jason Frasor in the deal, too, to give me another right-hander for the final third of the game. He's under control through 2010.
Group A is the key. For Halladay, I'd give up Feliz or Smoak, but not both.
Derek Holland and Martin Perez are untouchable, for me. So is Joe Wieland, even though he's not on the same tier. And Andrus, of course, is off limits.
Yes, I want Halladay to extend his contract and be here for more than just a year and a third. But that's likely not going to happen as a pre-condition to the trade. You take the chance that he helps this team win a division in 2009, and that in the winter he agrees to rip up the final year of his contract and replace it with four or five more.
One local writer suggests Texas could put Blalock and Padilla in the deal, after which Toronto could flip each of them elsewhere for tack-on prospects. Makes great sense for the Rangers, but I don't see it working. Why would another team trade anything for Padilla when he was passed over on league-wide waivers recently? I'm guessing that if Texas could have traded either Padilla or Blalock for any sort of prospect at any point this season, it would have already happened.
Boston will be in on Halladay, and that's a fascinating thing. At first blush, you'd assume Toronto wouldn't want to put Halladay in a Red Sox uniform when the Jays will be chasing Boston every season, but at the same time they'd presumably be stripping the Sox of Clay Buchholz and maybe Lars Anderson or Josh Reddick and more, and maybe Ricciardi feels like he'd be closing the gap that way. I think it would be crazy for the Jays to trade Halladay to Boston, but Ricciardi has done some confusing things in the past. Regardless, it does make sense to keep the Sox involved, if for no other reason than to drive up what other teams have to offer.
The Yankees have said they're not in on Halladay. We'll see.
The Phillies are said to be a favorite to go hard after Halladay, and they have a solid crop of top-tier prospects. The Mets? There will be interest, but can they compete when it comes to what they can offer?
Would you be OK trading Feliz, Moreland, Teagarden, Font, and Beltre for Halladay and Frasor?
Or Smoak, Beavan, Teagarden, Boscan, and Vallejo?
Is either package enough?
Objectively, maybe Toronto will believe it's entitled to more. Maybe the Jays insist on either Feliz or Holland plus either Andrus or Smoak.
But the question will be whether another team can match Feliz or Smoak in the first place. If Feliz or Smoak is Toronto's "guy" - a player that Ricciardi has circled when surveying the systems of the interested clubs (cf., Kershaw for Texas in 2007, Hanley Ramirez for Florida after the 2005 season) - then maybe the Rangers have the leverage not to offer both since, arguably, no other club can trump a package that includes one of them plus Teagarden and three other legitimate prospects.
Toronto will surely start talks, if they ever get started, by asking for Feliz (or Holland) plus Smoak. But the Rangers asked the Dodgers for Kershaw, and the Braves for Hanson and Schafer, and though Texas was told no by both, the club still made a deal with one of them.
That, I think, would be a reasonable plan here. If a Philadelphia offer, for instance - maybe Kyle Drabek or Jason Knapp, plus Dominic Brown and Jason Donald and Lou Marson - forced Texas to include Feliz and Smoak in order to stay in the hunt, then that's when we back out.
There's a point at which we'd be giving up too much, even for a pure number one like Halladay. What I'm thinking is that, maybe, we are deep enough that we can survive the sweepstakes without having to meet what is sure to be Toronto's initial demand.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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