Trade “Deadline”: Why Holding onto Halladay Should Cost Ricciardi his Job

The Toronto Blue Jays’ self-imposed deadline for trading ace pitcher Roy Halladay passed a few days ago, and the MLB-imposed one less than a day ago, yet the man fans call “Doc” will still be suiting up in gray and blue – emphasis on blue – for the rest of the 2009 baseball season.  

Several teams were reportedly interested in the 2003 Cy Young award winner, Halladay; the Philadelphia Phillies topped the list before acquiring Cliff Lee Monday. Also in contention were the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox, although it was never confirmed if Beantown ever presented a formal offer. The Jays asked for a plethora of top prospects from each potential trading partner, while General Manager and Senior Vice President J.P. Ricciardi seemingly rejected every offer, asking for more and more – because you can never have too many prospects, right?

The most publicized of the potential deals was with the reigning World Series champions, the Phillies. Most proposed trades involved some combination of top young pitcher Kyle Drabek, left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ and one of the team’s top two outfield prospects, Michael Taylor or Dominic Brown. Philadelphia tried to counter, replacing Drabek with Carlos Carrasco and Taylor and Brown with catcher Lou Marson and infielder Jason Donald. It wasn’t enough for Ricciardi to part with his treasured starter.

So the Phillies flipped nearly the same offer Cleveland’s way, and got another Cy Young winner in return, one that went 22-3 last season and still carries an earned run average around 3 despite a 7-9 record this year for the hapless Indians.

Now granted, Cleveland is much further out of its division race than Toronto, and looks like it may need a little more time to rebuild and restock. It further cemented that idea with the trade of top hitter and catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez to Boston Friday afternoon for more prospects. Toronto went into “sell” mode on deadline day as well, but rather than flip Halladay or two other players supposedly “on the block,” outfielders Alex Rios and Vernon Wells, it traded aging third basemen Scott Rolen to Cincinnati for fellow third-sacker Edwin Encarnacion, getting eight years younger in the process of minutes.

So why couldn’t Ricciardi pull the trigger to move Halladay? His Blue Jays, when healthy, possess one of the deepest pitching rotations in baseball with a solid bullpen to boot, so even without Halladay it wouldn’t be a lost cause. They still possess healthy starters Brian Tallet and Ricky Romero, while Jesse Litsch, Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan had be good if not great for Toronto over the past year and half despite injuries to each. Meanwhile, Scott Downs inherited the closers’ role from a damaged B.J. Ryan, while Jason Frasor, Brandon League and Jeremy Accardo gave so much depth to the bullpen that the organization recently released Ryan outright.

Blue Jays rookie pitchers, led by Romero and Brett Cecil, already have 21 wins this season, second only to the Oakland Athletics (who began the year with three rookies in their starting rotation). Doesn’t this situation reek of rebuilding? Why not flip some expensive pieces like Wells, Rios or Halladay for more young talent? Everyone else is doing it!

And yet, Ricciardi failed to make a move. His Jays are cursed with being stuck behind perennial contenders in Boston and New York in the American League East, while Joe Maddon has taken the youthful approach to the Tampa Bay Rays and guided them to the World Series last year. Even Baltimore has gotten its younger players some exposure this season, most notably Adam Jones (no relation to the former NFL player notoriously known as “Pacman”). Jones, by the way, was obtained last year, at the trade deadline, from a struggling team (the Seattle Mariners), for an ace pitcher (Erik Bedard). How hard can it be, really?

The point is this: Ricciardi was too greedy for his own good. He wanted everybody else’s best, and teams were able to outsmart him in his approach. Why toss your top three prospects across the border for a guy who could only pitch once every five days and could become a free agent by the end of 2010?

Good management realized this. The Dodgers only made minor moves to shore up their bullpen. The Red Sox got the bat they needed and are hoping their pitching comes around. The Phillies got a Cy Young winner, as mentioned previously, while not parting with anybody they really, really wanted.

Meanwhile, what has Toronto done? The Blue Jays have fourth place in the AL East all but sewn up with a new third baseman who led his previous team in errors last year, a few underachieving and overpaid outfielders and one of the best pitchers in baseball.

One more move needs to be made, and it doesn’t need a deadline or require any kinds of prospects from any other baseball organization: firing J.P. Ricciardi.