Certainly not Aroldis Chapman.
They are the headliner free agents in an offseason market that won't bear much in the way of lineup upgrades, franchise perceptions or ticket sales.
They're OK. In many cases they are better than what's already there, and in all cases they'll leave teams figuring ways to make up their production.
He is Roy Halladay, so different. He's an ace in all ways. No one goes innings, finishes games, throws shutouts, stifles offenses and wins games, all those equine-ish things combined, with Doc.
He won't be a free agent until next winter, which is why the Blue Jays for months have tried to hock Halladay, and why this time it has to work or they'll have missed the chance forever. He's lost value from July until now, and will lose value again if the Jays roll into April and May with Halladay at the top of their rotation.
If they will not spend with the Yankees or Red Sox, then they are for the moment destined to run in the middle of the American League pack. Their developing pitchers will keep them close on many nights. Their offense will try to work around Vernon Wells(notes). It's all fine, enough not to be a complete disaster, but not close to contending either. So it's time to wrap their heads and hearts around it and make the best trade, an outcome rival general managers expect to arrive over the next month.
Adding to the intrigue, the general manager who shopped Halladay in July – J.P. Ricciardi – was fired, in part because they're still shopping Halladay in November. His former assistant, Alex Anthopoulos, is 32, has five weeks in the big, comfy chair, and has the job of rekindling all those negotiations from four months back.
It won't be easy, though already the process feels a bit saner. Ricciardi was contending with a short deadline, howling fans, an edgy Halladay, a prodding ownership and a half-dozen fellow GM's who recognize a man over the barrel when they see one. Many travel with their own barrels for occasions just like it. But, if nothing else, you have to appreciate Ricciardi's commitment to franchise over self-preservation. He didn't like the proposals. Probably, it would get him axed. He still didn't like the proposals.
Which leads us to Anthopoulos, a decade or so out of Hamilton, Ontario's McMaster University, where he earned an economics degree. He nudged his way into a job out of college with the Montreal Expos, paid his own way through MLB's scout school, and became the Blue Jays' scouting director in 2006. A couple years later he was Ricciardi's assistant and a year after that was the vice president of baseball operations.
As GM of the Blue Jays, Ricciardi lost more often than he won, and was at the end drowning in the big payrolls that dominate the AL East landscape. Anthopoulos steps in with the largest of agendas, to trade one of the great players in franchise history, one drafted and developed by the organization, and to make something of it. He has a few years, probably, to make it work. But, why wait?
Upon taking the job, Anthopoulos observed, "We have some good parts, but not enough of them."
And then, covering broadly the Halladay circumstances, he said, "[Halladay] wants to win and really, at this time, we were a 75-win team last year. I think he's stated that his timeline for winning and ours may not mesh … Roy's position is to wait and see what kind of a club we have in 2010, see what we can do from a win-loss standpoint. We respect that and we understand that."
The next best available pitcher after Halladay is the free agent Lackey, a good pitcher who can't touch Halladay's durability or production. After Lackey, the next-best free agents are Randy Wolf(notes), Andy Pettitte(notes), Rich Harden(notes) and Joel Pineiro(notes).
They're all fine. Halladay, however, should have CC Sabathia(notes) impact. That's why the price is high, both in players and in dollars, when a year from now Halladay is a free agent in a class that potentially holds Josh Beckett(notes) and Cliff Lee(notes), too.
Halladay has a no-trade clause. He's made it clear to management over the past half-year, however, that he's not only willing to leave Toronto for a contender, he'd prefer it. In emails this week, Anthopoulos would not say if he intended to start over or pick up where Ricciardi left off, whether he'd grant a team a negotiating window to work through a contract extension, if he's got his heart set on anything in particular in return, or if it would make sense to move before Felix Hernandez(notes) joined Halladay on the trade market.
"It makes my job that much more difficult," he wrote with a friendly tone, "if our business is played out in the press."
General managers in Chicago say Anthopoulos is not yet banging on their doors, so not yet overanxious or desperate to move Halladay. They do say they are ready to talk. It's a matter of time now.
As the meetings wrap up in Chicago, and with the winter meetings in Indianapolis ahead, here are the teams that were linked to Halladay at the trading deadline, and how things might have changed since.
Ruben Amaro Jr. sensed talks with the Blue Jays were going nowhere, got off Halladay and acquired Cliff Lee instead. Propping up a seriously flawed staff, Lee pitched them into the World Series. The Jays had requested J.A. Happ(notes), Kyle Drabek and Domonic Brown. They're still in the organization. Amaro would have to consider if he could afford extensions to both Lee and Halladay, to one of them, or to make a run at the Yankees and let the following season fall where it does. Meantime, Amaro seems more intent on improving at third base (Figgins, Adrian Beltre(notes), Mark DeRosa(notes), etc.) and the bullpen (welcome back, Billy Wagner(notes)?) than starting pitching.
They had money issues, yet hung around until the deadline. GM Jon Daniels could deal from strength – his pitching depth – to add a middle-of-the-order bat, then acquire Halladay to cover for the lost pitching. They're still talking payroll limitations, and getting both a run producer and Halladay would cost them plenty in prospects, but the division appears ripe for a bold move by one of the teams beneath the Angels.
They're in transition. Lackey, Vladimir Guerrero(notes) and Chone Figgins(notes) are free agents. Brian Fuentes(notes) terrifies them in the ninth inning, or should. Their rotation without the strong-willed Lackey would go something like Jered Weaver(notes), Scott Kazmir(notes), Joe Saunders(notes), Ervin Santana(notes). They need an ace more now than they did in July (Kazmir ain't it), have the prospects to get it, and the money to sign it long term.
Remember, they're always in. Always. And they've already thought about a rotation that starts Sabathia-Halladay-A.J. Burnett(notes). They'd have to part with one or both of Joba Chamberlain(notes) and Phil Hughes(notes). If that sounds like too much, then consider they just went more than a month with three starting pitchers, because of what it looked like after that.
Once before they were said to have talked Clay Buchholz(notes) and Justin Masterson(notes) with the Jays, and like the Yankees the Red Sox don't ever fall entirely out of these things. The rotation runs aground after Beckett, Jon Lester(notes) and Buchholz.
How could they not be in? Many of the prospects that made the organization one of the richest in the game a couple years ago are in the big leagues or traded away, but Ricciardi had strong interest in the few left – Clayton Kershaw(notes) was a must – at the deadline. The Dodgers probably wouldn't do that straight up. Their only sure things in the rotation are Chad Billingsley(notes) (who couldn't make the postseason rotation), Hiroki Kuroda(notes) (who shouldn't have) and Kershaw. Given the big, expensive divorce, the Dodgers might not be big, expensive players in anything.
The Jays' interest was in outfielder Fernando Martinez(notes), shortstop Ruben Tejada and pitchers Jonathan Niese and Bobby Parnell(notes). The Mets' interest was in salvaging something in a devastatingly bad season. The two sides never came close. A Johan Santana(notes)-Halladay front end would be significant, particularly in the soft National League and at a time when there are so many questions concerning the direction of the Mets. Imagine the marketing bump if the Mets landed a big outfield bat (Holliday, Bay) and Halladay.