Jays hold ace (Halladay) as contenders squirm

LOS ANGELES – Jason Schmidt(notes) was so bad early Monday night the fans booed Manny Ramirez(notes).

The first three major league batters faced by Schmidt in two years hit the outfield fence on the fly.

The guy operating the radar gun couldn't tell fastballs from changeups.

Dodgers defenders almost completely lost interest.

Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan(notes) was hit in the head by a fastball and jogged to first base with the nonchalance of taking ball four.

And if I read the crowd correctly, everybody was thinking, “We should be watching Roy Halladay(notes).”

It's not that easy, of course.

For one, they're thinking the same thing in Anaheim, in Philadelphia, in Milwaukee, in Texas, in New York and even in Boston. When Halladay was going nine innings against the Red Sox on Sunday, the Dodgers' scout was wedged amid scouts from the Phillies, Brewers and Rangers.

For another, the Blue Jays' general manager is not yet acting like a man backed into a corner. J.P Ricciardi is either going to redecorate the place with what he can acquire for Halladay or take him to the winter meetings and try again there.

Even then Halladay can block a trade or, as a player dealt in the midst of a multi-year contract, demand a trade at the end of the season.

That's a lot of moving parts, even for a guy who'd stand at the top of every rotation in the game.

With 11 days to the non-waiver trading deadline, Ricciardi didn't sound like a guy in the mood to settle or apologize, either. Indeed, his strategy for the moment should be to sit back and have starting pitchers blow up all over the country. Schmidt goes in L.A. Mike Burns(notes) for the Brewers. John Smoltz(notes) for the Red Sox. Ted Lilly(notes) for the Cubs. All on the same night. Some of the least impressive rotations in baseball belong to contending teams in large markets, and the only other pitcher both available and remotely in Halladay's class is Cleveland's Cliff Lee(notes).

“I don't think much has changed,” Ricciardi said Monday afternoon, before Schmidt took the ball. “We said we'd listen. We will listen. But we have to be blown away. Look, we have what we think is not only a division changer, but a league changer. A guy that will make a difference.”

He's taking calls. He's dispatching scouts to minor league outposts from the Sally League to the PCL. According to baseball sources, he's thinking in terms of the Erik Bedard(notes) trade and then some. Two winters ago, the enigmatic lefty went from Baltimore to Seattle for five players – four promising pitchers and an outfielder (Adam Jones(notes), who just made the All-Star team at 23). Or, perhaps, something similar to what Rangers GM Jon Daniels was able to turn Mark Teixeira(notes) into two deadlines ago: Three stud pitchers, a starting shortstop (Elvis Andrus(notes)) and a starting catcher (Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes)).

Those are trades that didn't just add players, but changed the course of franchises. (Most believe the Bedard trade eventually cost Bill Bavasi his GM job). That's where Ricciardi is going with this.

So, on another warm night in L.A., Dodgers GM Ned Colletti sat in his suite and presumably wondered if his club had near enough arms to last the regular season and well into October, and then if he could part with Chad Billingsley(notes) or Jonathan Broxton(notes) or Dee Gordon or Josh Lindblom(notes). Or all of them.

Ruben Amaro is having the same thoughts about similar players in Philly. As is Brian Cashman in New York, and Doug Melvin in Milwaukee, and Theo Epstein in Boston.

So Ricciardi is quick to the phone these days.

“We'll just see,” he said. “We're not bluffing with anybody. It's gotta be enough to move us.

“It's like a first date. Show us what you're made of.”

It's going to be painful for the club that gets him. Really painful. But, then, you're going to have Halladay every fifth day for a season-and-a-half. And you're going to have him two or even three times in a playoff series. And you're going to have plenty of time to talk contract extension.

Asked Monday afternoon, before he gave the ball to Schmidt, if Halladay was the best pitcher in the game, Dodgers manager Joe Torre said, “I don't think there's a better one. There may be a couple as good, but none better.

“He's easy to like because he works so hard. Then he takes the rubber and basically doesn't plan on leaving.”

After an atrocious beginning, Schmidt survived five innings, allowed three runs and won his second start as a Dodger. The fans forgave Manny's defensive laziness in the first inning when he bombed a home run in the second inning. And now Schmidt is a different guy than he was with the Giants, or before he got that $47 million contract from the Dodgers. Assuming his shoulder holds up and he's able to pitch occasionally, he'll do it on the bat barrels of many hitters. He's a fifth starter, at best.

Ricciardi holds the alternative. He holds everybody's alternative.

“Some of the teams we talked to definitely have the ability,” he said. “But are they going to, and do they want to? Really, this is one where the teams that want him have the ability to get him.

“We're here. What can I tell you? We're fielding calls. There are scouts all over the place. I can't sit here and tell you one team has jumped out and said, 'We have to have this guy.' But, we're here.”

He added that he expected to hear more in the final days before the deadline.

“If not,” he said, “then we won't do it.”