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The Roy factor

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff July 7, 2009 08:47 AM

Yes, they need offense.

But if the Best Pitcher in Baseball is available, wouldn’t the Red Sox be foolish not to sniff it out?

According to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, the Blue Jays may be on the verge of shopping staff ace Roy Halladay. Toronto general manager JP Ricciardi, in Year 8 of his master rebuilding plan, told Rosenthal: "We have to see what's out there. I'm not saying we're going to shop him. But if something makes sense, we at least have to listen. We're (leaning) more toward listening than we've ever been."

Is he willing to trade the ace within the AL East? If he can get a package out of the Red Sox that includes Clay Buchholz, he’ll certainly have to listen.

Imagine a starting rotation of Halladay, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and John Smoltz/Daisuke Matsuzaka for the remainder of ’09. Better yet, Halladay is signed through 2010, so by dealing for him now, the Red Sox would get a year-plus of his services.

Do they need him? It’s easy to say, “no,” but what team would simply hang up the phone when an offer for a pitcher of Halladay’s caliber is on the other line? Besides, you-know-who does need him, and will most certainly want him: That team from New York now just a game back in the standings.

If the Yankees were to land Halladay, it would seemingly give them the inside track on the division, and worse yet, a pretty solid (CC Sabathia’s lame October resume notwithstanding) 1-2-3 of Halladay, Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett for the postseason. As strong as the Sox rotation is, that’s scarier than Beckett-Lester-Wakefield/Brad Penny/Smoltz/Matsuzaka.

But it is indeed the Red Sox’ flexibility at that position than can afford them to get stronger all the way around. If Epstein sells high on Buchholz, along with another prospect or two, heading to Toronto, he could then make room in the rotation for Halladay by flipping Penny to a pitching-hungry team for a bat. Trouble is Penny has pitched so well of late (five earned runs over his last five starts), that it’s going to take a lot more than a bit part to pry him loose. It remains to be seen which teams would be willing to do as much.

But Penny in all likelihood isn’t going to be here next season. If by dealing him you can make room for a guy like Halladay, as well as get some much-needed offensive help, then so be it.

Halladay is 10-2 with a 2.79 ERA for the Jays, mired in fourth place -- seven games back, closer to the basement-dwelling Orioles than the first-place Red Sox. Still, seven games doesn’t seem a lot, the All-Star break not even upon us yet, and one has to wonder if Ricciardi is potentially waving the white flag a bit too soon. Maybe this is even his way of rallying the troops, so to speak. “Shape up or ship out.”

"Look at the Rays last year," second baseman Aaron Hill told CBS Sportsline’s Danny Knobler. "Why can't we be that team? There's not a guy on the team that doesn't believe it. We've run through a little rough skid right now, but every team does."

Still, as Knobler points out, the Jays are just 4-11 this season against the Sox, Yankees, and Rays, with 38 of their remaining 78 games against those same teams. Does Ricciardi stick to his guns in Year 8 of his 32-year rebuilding plan, or does he try to improve for the long-term, whatever that term means these days in Toronto.

Rosenthal writes:

They're falling out of contention. They probably cannot afford to keep Halladay when they owe outfielders Vernon Wells and Alex Rios approximately $160 million combined from 2010 to '14. And they know that Halladay would prefer to pitch for a winner anyway when he becomes a free agent after next season.

Oh, and one other thing: The trade market is barren of quality starting pitchers, much less one who is a true difference-maker, one of the top five starters in the game.

The Jays' goal is obvious: To make the same type of deal that the Indians did when they traded right-hander Bartolo Colon in 2002, acquiring outfielder Grady Sizemore, left-hander Cliff Lee and second baseman Brandon Phillips.

For Boston, that would obviously begin with Buchholz and move on from there.

It is indeed a deal that Theo Epstein doesn’t need to make for this team, with other emerging offensive, age, and injury concerns. But if it’s out there, doesn’t he have to try? I guess the only long-range thought is: Who would get burned more down the line: The Jays having to face Halladay, or the Red Sox having to face Buchholz -- and maybe Michael Bowden as well -- for years to come within the same division?

It would take a monster deal for Halladay, one the Red Sox would have to deem worth it for the immediate and long-term future of the club. But it’s also one they would have to monitor based on what they might offer down in the Bronx, where a guy like the Blue Jays ace would turn the Yankees into a serious October threat.

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