In an unsurprising development, the Daily News reports that the Red Sox plan to aggressively pursue Roy Halladay early this off-season. According to the News’s source, the Sox want this done before the Winter Meetings. That puts pressure on the Yankees, who haven’t even determined their 2010 budget yet.
The Yankees do not want Halladay to land with their toughest division rival. With a rotation headed by Halladay, Jon Lester, and Josh Beckett, the Sox would have the best rotation in the AL, and probably in the majors. The Yankees have their top two set with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, but even then they’d have to add a significant No. 3 to match the Sox’s prospective top pitchers. So what should the Yankees do in this situation?
Pursuing Halladay themselves makes sense. As with the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes, the Yankees could pull a huge swing, adding Halladay to their rotation and dubbing it the best in the game, while leaving the Red Sox in the dust. There’s a certain attractiveness to that plan, especially coming less than a year after it happened with Teixeira. The emotion of trumping the Red Sox, however, should not derail the Yankees long-term plans.
As in 2007, the Yankees face the issue of paying in both players and dollars for a front-line pitcher. There are certain situations where this makes sense. In others it doesn’t. The Yankees felt that paying such a bounty for Johan Santana wasn’t worth it at the time, and could feel the same way about Halladay now. He would cost them three or four prospects, plus a long-term extension, possibly in the $100 million range. Is that type of deal worth it for a 33-year old pitcher? Or is Halladay the exception, like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson?
For the money, Halladay is probably worth it. He’s suffered minor injuries over the past few years, but has spent minimal time on the DL and has kept his innings counts among the highest in the league. In fact, Halladay spent two weeks on the DL in June of last season and still ended up with 239 innings, second most in the AL by one measly inning. His innings totals get so high because he finishes more games than any other starter — he’s led the league (or tied for the lead) in complete games for the past three seasons, and has led the league five times over his career.
The question facing the Yankees is of whether they want Halladay in their long-term plans. This is completely independent of any Red Sox rumors. True, Halladay on the Sox hurts the Yankees, but they can’t make long-term decisions based on their opponents. They have to figure out what players fit their plan, both in terms of the players themselves and the cost of acquiring them. If they feel that Halladay is an organizational fit and that the cost of acquiring him isn’t prohibitive, they should make a move to cut off the Red Sox. If they feel they can achieve the same effect with other pitchers, then they should bow out, even if it means the Sox landing Halladay.
If the Yankees decided to pursue Halladay, I think they have the pieces to top a Red Sox offer. In the Daily News report, Mark Feinsand and Bill Madden speculate that the cost for the Sox will start with starter Clay Buchholz and likely include 2008 draftee Casey Kelly. That’s certainly a strong start to a package, but as the report says, the Red Sox could be loathe to trade him. A Yankees offer of Joba Chamberlain plus Jesus Montero would likely top that. Whether the Yankees are willing to surrender such prospects, however, is a different story. Those are two players with excellent potential.
Based on the above speculation, I think that the Yankees are in an advantageous position regarding Halladay. They have the players to attract Toronto, and I think that unless the Red Sox grossly overpay, the Yankees can top them in most reasonable scenarios. The Red Sox are probably using this aggressive tactic to catch the Yankees flat-footed, putting pressure on them to decide their plans, lest the Red Sox land Halladay without a fight.
It’s easy to say that the Yankees should trade prospects for Halladay, but in a game as complex as baseball, decisions are never that simple. A deal for Halladay would dramatically change the franchise. The Yankees would lose several young, promising players for a 33-year old, plus a likely $100 million contract commitment. If they think that Halladay gives them the best chance to win, in 2010 and beyond, they should pull the trigger. If they think that their young players are poised to contribute, they should back off. The only effect the Red Sox should have on this decision is the timing. Other than that, the Yankees need to make the decision based on their own needs and projections, and not based on blocking a rival.