TORONTO - Seconds before Roy Halladay delivered his first pitch against the Tampa Bay Rays last night at the Rogers Centre, a fan shouted, "Roy, please stay in Toronto."
Though Toronto Blue Jays officials continue to say they might not trade Halladay, signs point to the ace righthander's being dealt before Friday's non-waiver trade deadline.
The Phillies are widely considered the front-runners to get Halladay, though the Dodgers, Angels, Red Sox, and Yankees seem to have interest.
According to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, officials from the Phillies and Blue Jays spoke Thursday. During the conversation, the source said, the Blue Jays officially set their asking price for the 32-year-old Halladay. Toronto wants pitchers Kyle Drabek and J.A. Happ as well as minor-league outfielder Dominic Brown.
That's a steep price. Drabek, 21, is the Phillies' top pitching prospect, and Brown, 21, is considered by many to be the organization's top position-player prospect. Happ, 26, entered last night's start against St. Louis with a 7-0 record and a 2.68 ERA. But he lost to the Cards, 8-1.
In what may have been his final home start for the Blue Jays last night, Halladay held Tampa Bay to two runs, one of which was unearned, over nine innings. Featuring a hard cutter that reached 92 m.p.h. as late as the ninth, Halladay struck out 10. He exited with the score tied, 2-2, and many among the announced crowd of 24,161 chanting "Hall-a-day. Hall-a-day." The Jays ended up losing, 4-2, in 10 innings.
For the season, Halladay, the 2003 American League Cy Young Award winner, is 11-3 with a 2.62 ERA. Halladay finished second in Cy Young voting last season.
After the game, Halladay said his gut feeling was that he would not be traded.
"If there was an urgency for me or the team, that would be different, but I don't get that feeling," he said. "Right now, I think I'll be here. Obviously, it's a complicated situation."
Halladay will be eligible for free agency after the 2010 season. He intends to test the market at that time as he seeks to pitch for a contending club. For that reason, the Jays are listening to offers now. A contending team that gets Halladay this month would potentially have him for two postseasons. From the Jays' perspective, Halladay's value in a trade may never be higher than now.
Interestingly, scouts from just two teams - the Phillies and Yankees - were on hand to watch Halladay last night. Phillies superscout Charley Kerfeld took in the game from a seat behind the backstop. At this point, teams have done their homework on Halladay, who is 142-69 over 12 seasons. It is likely that Kerfeld was there to ensure that Halladay got through the start healthy.
While Kerfeld watched Halladay in Toronto, Tony LaCava, the Blue Jays' top scout, watched Phillies prospect Carlos Carrasco pitch for triple-A Lehigh Valley. Another top prospect, outfielder Michael Taylor, played in the game. Blue Jays scouts have spent the last two weeks gathering information on all the Phillies' top prospects.
Drabek, who is 10-2 with a 2.80 ERA between single A and double A this season, has long been considered an untouchable in the Phillies' system. However, some club officials are open to including him in the deal for Halladay. Phils officials believe that adding Halladay will greatly increase the team's chance of winning a second consecutive World Series. Still, including Drabek and Happ could be a major sticking point. The Phillies clearly would prefer not to give up both.
If the Phils deem Toronto's asking price too high, they could pursue Cleveland lefthander Cliff Lee, whose price tag would be more agreeable. The Phils have scouted Lee's recent starts and are expected to watch him tomorrow at Seattle. The Phillies also are keeping tabs on the availability of Seattle lefties Jarrod Washburn and Erik Bedard.
But clearly, the Phils are aiming for the best available starter, and that's Halladay.
Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi declined to speak with reporters before the game.
"We're done talking about it," he said.
Before the game, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston called Halladay "a future Hall of Famer." Gaston insisted he felt no nostalgia before what might have been Halladay's last home start as a Blue Jay. In fact, he said that Halladay's name was written into the rotation for the rest of the season.
Other members of the Jays' organization clearly felt otherwise. As Halladay walked in from the bullpen before the game, a dozen members of the grounds crew lined up near the home dugout, removed their caps, and gave him hearty applause. In the stands, Jays fans rose and gave Halladay a standing ovation.
They repeated the standing ovation as he walked from the mound in the ninth inning.
"It was electric," Halladay said. "It was a great atmosphere to pitch in. It was a fun place to be even though we were on the wrong end" of the final score.