“Pitching, pitching, pitching — and left field.” Whenever we’re talking about potential Yankees moves, we’ll refer back to that mantra from Cashman. He made the team’s priorities clear on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings, and with the reported signing of Andy Pettitte and trade for Curtis Granderson, we can see he’s serious. There are multiple instances of “pitching” in that mantra, though, meaning the Yankees aren’t done strengthening their 2010 pitching staff, whether that be through free agency or a trade.
The biggest name on the trade market, of course, is Roy Halladay, and the Yankees continue to monitor the situation. Joel Sherman likens the situation to Mark Teixeira. Last year, after signing CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, Cashman had to convince ownership to expand payroll for Teixeira. His arguments were strong, and obviously ownership eventually agreed. If Cashman really wants to add Halladay for 2010, he’ll have to come up with an even stronger case.
Sherman notes two points on Teixeira that won over Hal Steinbrenner last winter. First was the swing from the Red Sox to the Yankees. Teixeira was clearly the Sox’s top target, and to lure him away would not only improve the Yankees, but hurt the Sox. It’s not smart to make moves just because of your rival, however, and that’s the basis for the second point. The Yankees would eventually need another bat, and Teixeira appeared to be the best not only in 2009, but for years to come. Those points, unfortunately, won’t play as well with Halladay.
Yes, the Red Sox are involved on Halladay, but it doesn’t appear they’re as serious as they were on Teixeira. That could change in the next few days or weeks, but Theo Epstein has indicated that the next year or two are part of a “bridge period,” which could mean that the Sox won’t make an enormous splash. Again, this could all be posturing and could change at any time. But as it stands now, the Sox are not as serious players for Halladay as they were for Teixeira.
To the second point, the Yankees might, at some point in the near future, need to add another big arm. Future free agent markets, however, could feature a number of them. Halladay himself, in fact, could be a free agent at the end of next season. A number of other arms could hit the market as well, so the Yankees certainly could find that big arm without sacrificing prospects. Plus, if Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes takes a step forward this season, the need for a big arm will be reduced.
Cashman’s trump card this year, should he choose to play it, is the dominance factor. A rotation of Sabathia, Halladay, Burnett, Pettitte, and Chamberlain/Hughes would be the league’s best. Even if they lost one of those five to injury, they would still be in decent shape. Then, as Sherman notes, when they get to the playoffs they wouldn’t have to start anyone of short rest. Pettitte would be an excellent fill-in for Game 4s. In that sense, the Yankees could justify expanding payroll for Halladay.
Yet payroll is not the only consideration. The Blue Jays will not give away Halladay. It will cost plenty in prospects. If the Yankees are so inclined, the Blue Jays have great interest in Jesus Montero. He is the Yankees top prospect, and his loss would be even tougher because the Yankees just traded their second best prospect, Austin Jackson. Will the Yankees trade one of the top five hitting prospects in the game, even for Roy Halladay, even when their next best hitting prospect isn’t nearly as good?
Further complication the issue is how the Blue Jays view Montero. He’s still a catcher, and figures to start 2010 at that position in either AA or AAA if he stays with the Yankees. According to Sherman, however, the Blue Jays view him as a first baseman, and accordingly wouldn’t accept him as the center piece of a deal. This seems like posturing to me — an attempt to get even more out of the Yankees. Most of the reporters covering the trade assume that the Yankees would have to package Hughes or Chamberlain with Montero to acquire Halladay. I just don’t see that.
Best pitcher in baseball or not, Halladay is under contract for only one more year, at a slightly below open market salary. The Blue Jays have a right to demand two top flight players for him, but, because you never get more than what you ask, they’re going to start high. As they continue talking to teams, I think that price will come down. Montero himself will not get it done, but Montero and a lesser pitcher might. This, of course, depends on offers from other teams, but the general idea is that no team will come close to a Montero/Chamberlain package.
Over the past few days, the Angels have emerged as a Halladay suitor. The latest report has them willing to trade Erick Aybar, a player they considered untouchable in July. They’ve since traded prospect Sean Rodriguez and lose Chone Figgins to free agency, though, so they’d be suffering a huge hit by losing Aybar — it could lead to a left side of the infield featuring Brandon Wood and Miguel Tejada. But even with Aybar, the Angels don’t appear to have an adequate pitcher. Reports have mentioned Joe Saunders, but he’s arbitration eligible and not a top flight starter. The Jays, knowing their position in the AL East, want young, controllable, high-ceiling players. Saunders and Aybar likely won’t cut it.
If the Angels don’t have what the Blue Jays seek, if the Red Sox want to build with young players over the next two years, and if the Dodgers’ ownership situation precludes any big payroll additions, the Yankees are in a good position on Halladay. He still won’t come cheap, but it’s doubtful he’ll cost Montero and Hughes/Chamberlain. That should make the Yankees a bit more flexible in dealing for him. I still doubt they do it, but given their position compared to other teams, the chance is there if they want it.