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Trading Halladay made more sense a year ago

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News item: Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi says he would listen to offers for Roy Halladay(notes).

Comment: What if Ricciardi is a year too late?

I know what you're thinking: Who wouldn't want a former Cy Young Award winner who finished in the top five in voting three other times, the pitcher who has set the standard for excellence in the American League for the first decade of the 21st century?

But that's not the issue. These are.

1) The economic landscape has changed.

Through July 6, 20 big league teams were down in attendance. Six of those teams were down by 200,000 or more, including the Mets (a dip of 365,000) and the Yankees (292,558). The box office hit absorbed by the New York teams is mitigated by the huge price increases at their new stadiums, but nonetheless, it is a trend that cannot be ignored, especially by the Mets, who also have a Bernie Madoff factor to consider.

Could the Yankees still afford Halladay? Of course. They potentially have $38 million coming off the books after this season in four salaries: Johnny Damon(notes) ($13 million), Hideki Matsui(notes) ($13 million), Xavier Nady(notes) ($6.5 million) and Andy Pettitte(notes) ($5.5 million).

But the Yankees spent $243.5 million on pitchers CC Sabathia(notes) and A.J. Burnett(notes). Is it really in their interest to sacrifice their best young prospects – and if I were Ricciardi, my conversation with the Yankees would begin with Joba Chamberlain(notes), Phil Hughes(notes) and catcher Jesus Montero – for another top-of-the-rotation guy, especially at a time when the Yanks must begin making plans to extend shortstop Derek Jeter(notes) or think about how to replace him.

A year ago, Yankees GM Brian Cashman almost certainly would have leaped at the chance to add Halladay; financially, it would have been much more appealing than paying megabucks to Burnett. Maybe the pressure to win now will still trump better judgment, and the Yankees will dive head-first into the Halladay pool.

But Halladay is 32, and while he has never had significant arm trouble, he did spend time on the DL this season with a groin injury. There's a buyer beware component here, too, for anyone asked to mortgage the farm.

2) Acquiring Halladay made more sense a year ago.

But any team that thinks about keeping Halladay only until his contract runs out after the 2010 season isn't liable to offer the kind of package to blow away Ricciardi – the only way he'd make a trade. If this had been 2008 and a 2½-year rental, you'd have a different story.

3) Some of the usual players may not get in the game.

The Boston Red Sox could put together an enticing package that includes starter Clay Buchholz(notes), but Boston also will be addressing extending current ace Josh Beckett(notes) beyond the 2010 season, and last winter they made it clear their more pressing need was for another bat, which is why they pursued Mark Teixeira(notes) with such ardor. Instead of making Buchholz the centerpiece of a Halladay deal, Theo Epstein may well elect to win from within.

The Atlanta Braves went hard after Jake Peavy(notes), then added Derek Lowe(notes), Javier Vazquez(notes) and Kenshin Kawakami(notes). Last July, sure. Now? Can't see it. They're tapped out. The Cubs are in the process of being sold; who knows what their payroll will look like? The Rangers? You can't be serious, not when MLB is loaning Tom Hicks money to stay in business until he sells the team.

The Phillies may make the most sense: They crave a top-of-the-line starter, Phillies consultant Pat Gillick has a long relationship with Jays president Paul Beeston, and the Phillies have attractive prospects. But their payroll is already at $130 million-plus – how much higher will they go?

The Florida Marlins have been bold before – they were surprising players for Manny Ramirez(notes) a year ago at the deadline – and they, too, have kids to spare. But they just recently broke ground on a new ballpark, so in this climate it's hard to see them jumping in.

The Los Angeles Dodgers want an ace, but GM Ned Colletti to this point has resisted giving up his best young players. Besides, owner Frank McCourt likely will owe another $20 million to the Clomid Kid (Manny Ramirez) next season, so his cash supply has limits. And a year ago McCourt instructed Colletti to add pieces without spending a dime, which was done in the acquisitions of Ramirez, Casey Blake(notes) and Greg Maddux(notes).

Baseball is clearly trending toward placing greater value on homegrown talent, perhaps in part because an industry stripped (relatively) clean of artificial enhancers may see its older players perform more like they used to in the past, rather than as ageless supermen.

4) Halladay has full no-trade protection.

Among other things, that means: If White Sox GM Kenny Williams comes calling, like he did for the Padres' Peavy, will Halladay's answer also be no? The no-trade protection allows Halladay to pick and choose, which will be an impediment to Ricciardi getting the deal he wants.

So, will Halladay be traded at the deadline? Ricciardi didn't begin the auction and create such a huge distraction for his team and his pitcher, unless he intends to see it through. Halladay, whose between-starts routines are legendary for shutting out potential annoyances, told reporters Tuesday night he would be willing to "evaluate his options." Translation: In the right situation, he exchanges his looneys for dollars.

The question is whether Ricciardi will get the kind of return a pitcher of Halladay's stature would have commanded a year ago, or what Indians GM Mark Shapiro got from the Montreal Expos in 2002 when he traded Bartolo Colon(notes), then 29, for budding stars Grady Sizemore(notes), Brandon Phillips(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes). Colon won 10 games for the Expos, then a total of 68 over the next seven seasons.

The suspicion here is that he won't.

HITTING THE CORNERS

Reynolds rap: Hope Arizona third baseman Mark Reynolds(notes) has thick skin after calling out his teammates last weekend for looking like the Bad News Bears and suggesting that many of them didn't care. "You can give all the rah-rah speeches you want and have all the team meetings you want, yell at guys or whatever, but guys got to give a damn,'' he said. "I don't really see it.'' That kind of stuff rarely spills into the media these days, and usually doesn't come from a 25-year-old who led the majors in whiffs with 204 last season and is leading again this season with 111, now that Chris Davis(notes) of the Rangers (114) has been optioned to the minors. That's a pretty fat target for backstabbers to aim at.

Shippin' out to … the Bronx?: Yankees setup man Brian Bruney(notes) didn't understand the fuss created when Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon(notes) didn't rule out one day pitching for the Yankees if he became a free agent after the 2011 season. Papelbon is well aware that Mariano Rivera's(notes) contract with the Yankees runs out after 2010. "I know Jonathan. … Why wouldn't he want to come to New York?," Bruney said. "But if it happened in the next couple of years, it wouldn't be closing games, it would be setting up Mariano. I would love to set up Paps for him to set up Mo. That would be awesome. But why wouldn't he want to come here? You're talking about the biggest stage in sports.''

Fungo hitting: If his present slump continues, Victor Martinez(notes) may make the Indians' decision easy on whether he should be traded at the deadline. The team's only All-Star is batting .078 since June 20, with two home runs and four RBIs. His average has fallen from .342 on June 20 to .299. … Hard to believe, but Ken Griffey Jr.(notes), best remembered in Boston for the spectacular show he put on during the 1999 Home Run Derby, has been a total bust in Fenway Park since then. Griffey, who didn't play in Fenway this decade until coming in 2005 for an interleague series with Cincinnati, had a pinch single Sunday as a member of the Mariners. But that was just his third hit in 28 at-bats at Fenway this decade. Boston pitching home and away has held him to an .094 average (5 for 53). … Manny Ramirez got a mention on Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person List" for not treating his minor league teammates to dinner while on rehab assignment. By comparison, Pawtucket broadcaster Dan Hoard lists the meals sprung for by Boston players rehabbing in Triple-A: Jed Lowrie(notes) – P.F. Chang's; Daisuke Matsuzaka(notes) – sushi one night and P.F. Chang's another; John Smoltz(notes) – ribs and chicken; Mark Kotsay(notes) – Capital Grille steaks one night and ribs and chicken; Kevin Youkilis(notes) – Ruth's Chris steaks; Rocco Baldelli(notes) – Capital Grille steaks; Julio Lugo(notes) – Capital Grille steaks. … On the table for Tom Ricketts should he finally win approval as new owner of the Chicago Cubs: a $250 million renovation of Wrigley Field and environs in time for its 100th anniversary in 2014. Such plans don't always survive a change in ownership. The Red Sox had plans for a new Fenway until John W. Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino bought the club and decided to redo the old place. … Tumblin' dice: After being swept in Philadelphia, the Mets came home to the news that Carlos Beltran(notes) and Jose Reyes are nowhere close to returning and there's no telling when Carlos Delgado(notes) gets back. Can you say, wait till next year? David Wright(notes) clearly is overtaxed by the burden of carrying the club by himself. After going hitless in front of booing throngs at CitiField on Tuesday night, Wright is batting .195 in his last 20 games, with one home run and five RBIs. He has more whiffs (23) than hits (15).