07/27/09 10:52 PM ET
Phillies may shift focus to Indians' Lee
Club appears unlikely to agree to deal for Jays' Halladay
By Todd Zolecki / MLB.com
Halladay? Fading fast, one source said Monday.
Lee? He is turning into the better bet.
Several sources have said the team's chances of acquiring Halladay have decreased in recent days, which puts Lee into greater focus. One source said that while the Blue Jays have asked for J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek and Dominic Brown -- a National League Rookie of the Year candidate and the organization's top pitching and position player prospects, respectively -- the Phillies might be able to acquire Lee without giving up Drabek.
But without Drabek, the package for Lee would expand to include more players.
The Indians aren't believed to be terribly motivated to move Lee, who is a Cy Young Award winner and who makes just $9 million next season. But clearly there are talks between the two teams. The Indians had a scout in Double-A Reading on Monday to watch Drabek. The Blue Jays also watched Drabek pitch.
So what happened with the Blue Jays?
The Blue Jays rejected a counteroffer from the Phillies that included Happ, Triple-A Lehigh Valley outfielder Michael Taylor, right-hander Carlos Carrasco and shortstop Jason Donald, according to ESPN.com.
There were reports Monday that talks soured between the Phillies and Blue Jays over the weekend, even turning nasty as the teams differed on fair value for Halladay.
A Phillies spokesman made a point to gather the club's beat reporters before Monday's game against the D-backs at Chase Field to tell them there is no animosity between the Phillies and Blue Jays "or any other club that they're engaged in trade discussions with from our point of view."
Those words clearly came from Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who is trying to maintain a low profile.
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has been far more visible and vocal in recent weeks. He told FOXsports.com Sunday the chances of trading Halladay are "very slim."
That could be nothing more than posturing while others believe it is just another indication the Jays are not backing off their demands for Happ, Drabek and Brown.
Two sources said they considered Toronto's demands for Halladay, who many consider to be the best pitcher in baseball, to be fair.
But the Phillies are reluctant to trade both Happ and Drabek in part because of what their rotation might look like without them in 2010 and '11, when they still have their nucleus of Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge under contract.
If the Phillies would trade Happ, Drabek and Brown for Halladay, the rotation next season would include Hamels, Halladay and Jamie Moyer, who is 9-7 with a 5.65 ERA this season and who will be 47 next season. Joe Blanton, who is salary arbitration-eligible, seems like a smart bet to return, although the Phillies already have $95.5 million committed to 11 players next season. Add Halladay into the mix and that the payroll jumps to $110.75 million for 12 players.
It seems unlikely, but it is possible the Phillies could non-tender Blanton.
If Blanton is back, the Phils would need to fill just one spot in the rotation. If he is not, they would need to fill two.
That would not be terribly daunting with Hamels and Halladay atop the rotation, but the picture becomes a little bleaker in 2011. There is no guarantee the Phillies could re-sign Halladay, whose contract expires after '10. Moyer seems unlikely to return. Blanton also will be a free agent after '10, and he could leave for a big payday like Halladay.
That would leave the Phillies with Hamels and four vacancies.
That is why they consider it important to keep Happ or Drabek, preferably Drabek.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.