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Return flight for this Jay?

Roy Halladay is grilled at an All-Star Game news conference about whether he’ll stay in Toronto, or where he’ll end up. Roy Halladay is grilled at an All-Star Game news conference about whether he’ll stay in Toronto, or where he’ll end up. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 14, 2009
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ST. LOUIS - One wonders when the Blue Jays’ Roy Halladay steps on the mound at Busch Stadium tonight to start the All-Star Game if it’s the mound he soon could be calling home for the foreseeable future.

The Cardinals are one of the teams that could ante up the prospects and the money to land the pitcher universally thought of as the best in baseball.

With St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter endorsing the move and having had a long friendship with Halladay, it all makes sense, though Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi wants four top players/prospects in return, which, for the moment, has taken the Red Sox out of the picture.

The Sox, according to a team source, would love to compete for Halladay but would like the price to come down.

“To trot out Roy and myself and Adam Wainright and Kyle Lohse every four days, that would be pretty tough,’’ said Carpenter. “Roy is the best. That would be amazing.’’

We don’t know whether the Cardinals, who already have the best player in the game in Albert Pujols, would give up what it would take to land Halladay, but in the tight National League Central such a move could separate St. Louis from the pack.

Owners are looking at the bottom line more than ever these days and prospects are valued so much.

Would Halladay create excitement and put fans in the seats? One would think so, though attendance in Toronto is down and Halladay starts are not considered events like the old Pedro Martínez starts when he was in Montreal and Boston. Manny Ramírez made a 5,000-fan-per game difference in attendance when he got to Los Angeles last Aug. 1. Owners have got to be sure the player can either make them money or win them a championship.

Halladay is torn. He was grilled about his future yesterday and seemed conflicted about leaving Toronto and about which team he would approve a trade to.

He was introduced by Bob Costas at a news conference as “representing, at least for now, the Toronto Blue Jays,’’ which got a laugh from Halladay, who admitted, “I’m not looking forward to this [news conference].’’

“It’s tough,’’ said Halladay, who has 141 career wins and 69 losses. “Obviously, I’m somewhere that I enjoy being and have spent my entire career. There’s a lot, I think, that goes into it.

“I think as a player there’s a will to win. There’s that will to do it in October. Basically, that’s all this is about. I’d like that chance. I’m not saying it won’t be Toronto. But [the speculation] has been tough. I do enjoy Toronto very much.’’

He wants to play for a winner, and although they started strong, the Jays now are 11 games behind in the American League East.

Some believe he wants to stick to the AL because he doesn’t want to hit. Others think he’d love to pitch with old buddy Carpenter. He does want to pitch meaningful games, but Toronto is comfortable for him.

He hinted in his initial visit to Yankee Stadium that the new ballpark was a tad uncomfortable for him because the ball flies out of there so often.

The NL would be a new frontier, although he said about having to hit, “I’d rather hit than face Jeter, A-Rod, Matsui, Teixeira.’’

Halladay called a possible trade “the flip of the coin. There’s so much that goes into it. I’m still not 100 percent sure which direction we’re going in Toronto. If Toronto does decide to do something, it’s really going to be something that helps the organization. There’s going to be a lot of pieces. It’s going to be complicated.’’

Ricciardi told this reporter last week he didn’t think a deal was going to get done because of its complexity and because of what he’ll demand. It’s hard to believe he could get Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and a fourth prospect out of Boston or Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Austin Jackson, and a fourth guy out of the Yankees.

Then there’s the matter of the $15.75 million Halladay will earn next season, and the fact that any team dealing for him might have to commit to a five-year extension, though Halladay sidestepped that issue yesterday.

“All I can tell you is my priority would be winning,’’ he said. “I’ve been fortunate to be taken care of financially.’’

If Halladay does press for an extension, that could derail the Cardinals, who typically don’t like to give massive deals to anyone except Pujols.

Of course, other teams are liable to get into this, including the Tigers and Mariners, and possibly the Brewers.

The Tigers have spent a lot on Dontrelle Willis for little return and decided to eat Gary Sheffield’s contract. Owner Mike Ilitch wants to win now and might be willing to open the purse strings for this extraordinary pitcher, who would team with Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson as a formidable threesome.

Don’t rule out the Dodgers or the Angels, either.

When Halladay’s name was brought up to Dodgers manager Joe Torre yesterday, he was effusive in his praise of the righthander.

“Obviously I can’t get too specific because that would be tampering,’’ Torre said. “To me he’s one of the elite pitchers in this game. I’ve watched him for a long time and I remember when they sent him all the way back to A ball to get straightened out and he came back and he was so determined.

“When he takes the ball for the first inning he expects to be out there for the ninth. That’s so rare, so unusual. He’s a no-nonsense guy. He gets the ball and throws it. He’s an elite pitcher and there are a handful of those guys in baseball.’’

A guy who single-handedly can change a race?

“Yes, absolutely,’’ Torre said.

Halladay is attempting to not let this become a distraction, though that’s getting more difficult by the day.

“It’s a tough situation, but you always want to win,’’ said Halladay. “You want that chance to win; that’s every player’s dream. For me, I’m looking at it as if they’re exploring options. Something may come of it, something may not. I’m trying to keep the emotions out of it as much as I can.’’

All-Star teammate Aaron Hill said he was sick of talking about Halladay’s future.

“You can’t worry about it,’’ Hill said. “Yeah, it’s out there and it’s in the media now. It’s interesting to think about what could happen, because you never would have thought something like that would happen. But if it does, and it gets to that point, then you deal with it.’’

The Jays have their scouts looking at prospects of the teams they feel have a chance of landing Halladay. The Cardinals are one of them. St. Louis fans will get to watch this extraordinary pitcher tonight and dream of the possibility they could be seeing a lot more of him.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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