This seems like a little bit of deja vu.
I suppose when you're the best pitcher in baseball, as soon your GM declines to say you're untouchable the media blows up in speculation. This is not unusual or surprising in any way, but will he get traded? My gut feeling is no, but let's do some analysis from the point of view of the Blue Jays.
I believe the key to any deal like this is a comparison between long-term and short-term effects. When a player of Roy Halladay's calibre is traded the return will almost always be prospects or young players of high potential, thus setting up a potential long-term advantage against the short-term disadvantage of dealing your ace.
Case 1: Halladay is Dealt
Okay, suppose Halladay is traded. The return on that deal likely includes at least three of the following players: a major-league-ready number-one-type arm, a major-league-ready shortstop, a high-potential third baseman, or a major-league-ready catcher. All have to be top prospects. The reasoning is fairly trivial as the Jays are not going to make a deal centred around players at different positions: they have Lind, Snider, Rios, and Wells long term in the outfield, Aaron Hill long term at second, probably Lind or Cooper long term at first, and oodles of number two/three type young pitchers. With luck the Jays won't need a catcher either with prospect J.P. Arencibia but he has stumbled recently to the point that the Jays may be forced to look outside the organization long-term.
The short-term disadvantages are rather obvious: the Jays are not going to contend in either 2009 or 2010. Losing Roy Halladay makes that much of a difference and even with the aforementioned ridiculous depth of pitching the Jays have they are unlikely to contribute to the point of replacing Halladay's output. So, given that this is the case, it seems likely that the Jays would attempt to deal Scott Rolen, Lyle Overbay, and Brian Tallet who all fill the profile of short-term contributers.
Long-term we'll go with advantages first. We are assuming in this case that Halladay would not re-sign with Toronto beyond 2010 because I think otherwise the Jays would try to hold on to him. Long-term - with luck - the players sent back in the Halladay deal make up the core of a very young team. The theoretical lineup includes Wells, Rios, Snider, Lind, Hill, plus shortstop, plus catcher, plus third baseman, and a 1B/DH type guy. That lineup is relatively cheap, with Wells/Rios/Hill taking up 40$ million with the other six having their salaries controllable. The rotation likely ends up as: number-one type arm, Marcum, Cecil, Romero, McGowan/Richmond/Litsch/Purcey/Rzepcynski/Mills/Ray/Castro/one of the early round pitchers drafted in 2009. That looks like a pretty solid team going forward.
Long-term disadvantages time. I don't think you can ignore the effects of Roy Halladay's mentorship on the young pitchers. He has a superior work ethic and Toronto fans have seen it rub off on those young impressional minds time and time again. Without Halladay it will likely fall to guys like Shaun Marcum to provide the veteren leadership which obviously does not seem as valuable. Leadership is impossible to quantify, however. Something easier to quantify is the effects on the fanbase. Attendence would drop like a stone and would be nearly impossible to get back even long-term. Jays fans have been told this past year that 2010 was the year, yet if Halladay is traded the fans would feel betrayed and would find it hard to trust the organization again in the future.
Case 2: Halladay is kept
In large part I have covered the advantages/disadvantages in the previous section. Let's do this anyways.
Short-term advantages: 2010 baby. Putting together another theoretical lineup and pitching rotation, we're looking at for pitching: Doc, Marcum, Romero, Cecil,
Long-term disadvanges: The 2010 lineup above is transient. Guys like Overbay, Rolen, and Scutaro are nearing the end of their contracts with no obvious replacements in sight, aside from Overbay with Lind, Cooper, and Dopirak. Even if the Jays have a strong 2010 season, with little depth on the left side of the infield it may not be sustainable. And if Halladay does not re-sign, there really isn't an ace in the system right now (though admittedly I don't know much about the guys the Jays just drafted), leaving them with a gaping hole at the head of the pitching staff.
I really don't want to see Roy Halladay pitching for any other team than the Blue Jays, but I have to admit the possibilities are certainly there. I think there are a few factors which will tip the scales either way, though.
- The J.P. Riccardi factor: Say what you will about the guy, his draft record has been his saving grace. Free agent contracts are not. Many Blue Jays fans have been calling for his head for a while now but it may just happen now. If Halladay gets traded then the Jays are in a rebuilding mode and, with his contract expiring after 2010, Riccardi will be gone at the end of the year. I don't think this is debateable. His entire plan was aimed at 2008-2010 being "the years," and absent of a playoff berth in 2009 and absent his ace, he will have failed at that plan. Now, does Riccardi want to come out, admit failure, trade Halladay, and get fired? I'm inclined to say no, probably not. Even with him saying that he wouldn't be doing his job if he wasn't listening to Halladay offers, you can bet J.P.'s fighting to keep Doc.
- The Ownership Factor: i.e. does Rogers believe they can keep Halladay and have a high enough payroll to give Doc the supporting cast for a playoff run? If not then a trade will be forced on Riccardi, whether the GM likes it or not.
- The Risk factor: No, not the board game. I don't think enough people are factoring this in here. You always always have to consider risk in every decision and there's enough of it going around for these big prospect deals. There is a large inherent risk in prospects - they may not reach their potential, they may get injured, etc. This is extremely difficult to measure, while with a pitcher like Roy Halladay with a long track record it's relatively easy. The Blue Jay may prefer the risk they know than the risk they don't.
It makes enough sense in as far as holding a continuous stream of talent at the bigs that even with the potent fan reprecussions that will come Toronto may be forced to pull the trigger. This is all dependant on the right mixture of prospects coming back to pry Halladay out of Toronto's grasp, but the demand should definitely be high enough to accomplish that.
I really, really, really, really hate to say this, but it looks likely that the Blue Jays trade Roy Halladay. There, I said it, now I'm going to cry in the corner.