Lee jumps into a race while Halladay languishes

Tim Brown

SAN FRANCISCO – No, Cliff Lee(notes) said, he has not bumped into Roy Halladay(notes) in the team hotel.

But the way they'd been chasing each other around for the past couple weeks, would it have been so crazy if they'd shared coffee and tiny bowls of Froot Loops in the concierge lounge?

In a fun bit of scheduling, the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays are playing their weekend series in the Bay Area against the Giants and Athletics, respectively. And they're holed up together in downtown San Francisco, the Jays passing on a lovely Courtyard hotel on Hegenberger Road across the bay, mere minutes from Oakland's stadium.

Anyway, as Halladay debated leaving the security of his room on an off day for the Blue Jays, Lee changed into his new blue and red uniform at AT&T Park on Thursday afternoon. A Cleveland Indian for his entire big league career, he's free now from the starts and stops of the mid-market franchise, free from the drama-less coming months, free from having to witness another teammate (Victor Martinez(notes)?) box his gear and cartwheel off into a pennant race.

Like Mark DeRosa(notes) before him, Lee went from the Indians to first place. He gained all those games. He gained a head start into the postseason. He gained relevance.

"This is a pretty good squad," Lee said in the visitors' dugout. "It's going to be fun to be a part of it."

Halladay could only be envious.

On Thursday morning, sources pared Halladay's possible destinations to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, with another club or two potentially on the periphery, but distantly so. The Dodgers spent a good portion of the day adding George Sherrill(notes) to their bullpen, stomping out the Manny Ramirez(notes) flames and trying not to get left out of anything, while the Red Sox engaged the Padres regarding Adrian Gonzalez(notes), stomped out the David Ortiz(notes) flames and tried not to get left behind on anything.

Asked Thursday evening if he'd made any progress on either Halladay front, Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi texted, "No."

Sources with both clubs echoed the sentiment. Then, as games were ending on the East Coast on Thursday night, the Rangers – the unlikely team that won't go away in these negotiations – were believed to have reasserted themselves. Halladay certainly is Nolan Ryan's kind of guy, though it's a mystery how Ryan would pay him.

That's apparently where it stood heading into the final hours of the non-waiver trading period, Halladay too valuable to be donated into the championship plans of Boston or L.A., Ricciardi rightfully unwilling to yield on his desire to get what he has coming, Ned Colletti and Theo Epstein having a decidedly different opinion of what that is.

The Phillies, meanwhile, decided the whole thing was no longer worth their effort. While they'd initially targeted Halladay, they also knew they absolutely had to have a top-end starter, and could not linger with the Jays and potentially lose Halladay and Lee.

So they moved some prospects, nobody anybody would miss for a while, and will start Lee on Friday night against the Giants, and every five days, and presumably as often as possible in October as well.

The NL East race, or what is left of it, ends Friday because of Lee, who has pitched more innings than anyone in baseball. He'll take starts at the top of a flawed rotation and take up innings normally left to a flawed bullpen, which is what an ace does. His ERA is up about three-fifths of a run and he's already lost six more games than he did last season when he went 22-3, but he's generally the same guy, the guy who CC Sabathia(notes) left behind a little more than a year ago.

"I feel great," he said. "Obviously I had a lot of things go my way last year. It hasn't quite gone the same this year. But, I feel like I'm throwing the ball similarly."

And like CC, he's in the National League and in the middle of it again.

"He said I would like it," Lee said.

Lee also said he'd feel no pressure stepping into the Phillies' title defense and, as the Dodgers began to stagger, making them NL favorites.

"Not really, no," he said. "Honestly, I don't. For me it's an opportunity to help a team that's already successful."

Halladay's better, of course. And this certainly could have been him, here or in Boston or L.A. Maybe the deadline nears and the Yankees jump in, or the Rangers get aggressive. Until then, Halladay waits, and it would seem Lee is glad it's not him.

"I heard the rumors," he said. "But it's all rumors until your manager calls you in the office and tells you something different. If all the rumors were true I'd have been traded 10 times. Roy would have been traded 20 times."

Once would be plenty enough for Halladay.