PHOENIX - Almost as fascinating as the Phillies' pursuit of Toronto righthander Roy Halladay is the way general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has navigated the media circus that has surrounded it.
While Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi has spoken at length about his club's involvement with other teams, Amaro has remained steadfast in his silence, sticking to an unofficial policy of not characterizing trade negotiations. In fact, the closest thing to a public acknowledgment of the Halladay situation came yesterday, when a Phillies official released a carefully worded statement shooting down a report on ESPN.com that suggested talks between the two sides had become contentious.
"There is no animosity between the Phillies and any other team they are in negotiations with, from our perspective," the team official said.
Privately, several members of the club said they expected that a resolution would not come until Friday, the final day major league clubs can conduct trades without first exposing players to waivers.
The feeling inside the Phillies' clubhouse is near unanimous: trade for Halladay, regardless of the cost. But things aren't nearly as simple in the front office, where only Amaro and members of his inner circle are privy to the exact nature of discussions.
As of yesterday, those discussions, according to sources, had Toronto requiring both lefthander J.A. Happ and top prospect Kyle Drabek to be involved in any deal. The Phillies, while hopeful the Blue Jays will lessen that demand, are exploring other options for bolstering the rotation, club sources said. The team has had some degree of interest in Seattle lefty Jarrod Washburn since last season, and over the last week has felt an increased optimism about the availability of 2008 American League Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. The Indians appear to be treating the Phillies as a serious suitor, dispatching a scout to watch Drabek pitch for Double A Reading last night while, according to sources, planning to send another personnel man to Reading tomorrow.
But even as the Blue Jays have shifted the tone of their public rhetoric - Ricciardi called the chances of Halladay being dealt "very slim" in comments to Fox Sports on Sunday - their actions suggest that the current lull in action is more a routine part of the negotiating process than a sign that a deal is a longshot. Sal Butera, a member of Ricciardi's inner circle, and an assistant watched Drabek pitch last night for Reading.
It is unclear whether the Phillies eventually would agree to part with a package that includes Drabek, top position prospect Dominic Brown, shortstop Jason Donald and another pitcher for Halladay. But several baseball sources predicted that Cleveland would require a similar package for Lee, with the possible exception of Brown, whom the Phillies view as having a higher upside than fellow standout corner outfield prospect Michael Taylor.
Whatever the case, Amaro isn't saying: He did not adress the media before last night's Phillies-Diamondbacks game.
The trade deadline is not an opportune time to ascertain a frank assessment of a prospect's standing, particularly when that prospect could be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations.
But Phillies assistant general manager Chuck Lamar insists that the team continues to hold righthander Carlos Carrasco in high regard.
"He's one of the top pitching prospects, not only in our organization, but in all of minor league baseball," Lamar said.
While the Phillies will not admit this publicly, all indications are that Kyle Drabek has supplanted Carrasco as the organization's top pitching prospect. Drabek has dominated at every stop since undergoing Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2007.
Carrasco, meanwhile, has had an inconsistent season at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Everyone in the Phillies organization believes Carrasco has the stuff to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Even while going 6-9 with a 5.18 ERA in 20 starts this season, he is averaging an impressive 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings. The two things Carrasco has struggled with, according to those who have watched him pitch, are an ability to pitch inside and a tendency to let mistakes snowball into big innings.
Lamar said Carrasco has made strides in attacking the inner part of the plate.
"It never seems to come easy to anybody," Lamar said. "Carlos has adapted quicker than we thought he would. And I know his last couple of starts he's done a good job of challenging a guy inside."
Consistency remains a work in progress. In a 9-6 loss to Gwinnett (Atlanta affiliate) last Friday, with a Blue Jays scout in attendance, he allowed three runs in the third inning and three runs in the sixth and walked four. His previous start, he allowed all three of his runs in the sixth inning and walked none while striking out eight.
The Phillies have worked to incorporate a slider into Carrasco's repertoire. During spring training, when he was part of a four-man competition for the fifth spot in the rotation, he relied on his fastball, curveball and changeup.
"Really, the thing that is keeping him out of the major leagues, like most young pitchers, is the consistency," Lamar said. "He's giving up the big inning. If you go back and look at the stats, he'll give up three or four, and then shut a team out for seven innings. That's just a sign of a young pitcher who is still learning his craft. He's a better pitcher at this time than in spring training."
Pedro Martinez, whose first rehab outing was cut short due to rain, will throw a side session tomorrow at Triple A Lehigh Valley. The Phillies have not announced a second rehab start, although it likely would come Friday . . . Brett Myers is scheduled to throw a bullpen session in Clearwater on Thursday . . . Clay Condrey (oblique) is not scheduled to throw for several days . . . J.C. Romero (forearm) threw a bullpen session in Clearwater yesterday and is scheduled to throw another one tomorrow. *
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.