INDIANAPOLIS - The Phillies and Roy Halladay will be linked until the Toronto Blue Jays finally trade their ace to Philadelphia or elsewhere. And despite general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.'s attempts to downplay his interest, much of his off-season work has created conditions that make a trade for Halladay possible.

Before leaving the winter meetings yesterday morning, Amaro was asked if he was likely to make a major trade in this off-season. "I don't think there is any likeliness," he said. "There is nothing likely. How about that?"

There was a feeling among Phils brass that the meetings had been productive, and had allowed them to establish a foundation for moves that could be consummated in the near future. The Phils remain one of a small group of teams most likely to acquire Halladay. There was also speculation among league executives that the Phils were trying to shed payroll to create room for Halladay.

The Los Angeles Angels made the first concrete offer this week, according to the Toronto Sun: pitcher Joe Saunders, shortstop Erick Aybar, and outfielder Peter Bourjos for the ace.

A comparable offer from the Phils would involve an outfield prospect such as Michael Taylor, a major-league pitcher such as J.A. Happ, and perhaps another player.

The Phils would also likely have to move pitcher Joe Blanton to create payroll space for Halladay. However, the front office has consistently rejected the notion that pitcher Cole Hamels would be involved in any trade, and there has been no indication that it has changed that stance.

Several other factors seem to indicate that the Phils are entertaining the possibility of acquiring Halladay.

The team has been highly conservative with its off-season spending, open to losing effective relievers in Scott Eyre and Chan Ho Park if the pitchers do not reduce their asking prices.

One of the Phils' top targets for the bullpen, Brandon Lyon, signed with Houston on Wednesday for a reported three-year, $15 million contract. Though Amaro said he was "pretty deep" in talks with Lyon, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said negotiations never progressed beyond a preliminary phase.

Had the Phils given Lyon a contract comparable to the one he received from Houston, their ability to afford Halladay would have been severely hampered.

A league source said the Phils had also shown continued interest in veteran John Smoltz.

If Happ and Blanton were traded to acquire Halladay and create room for his salary, the rotation would consist of Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hamels, and a shaky back end currently comprising Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick. Smoltz could help complete a thinned-out rotation or provide late-inning relief.

The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are also widely considered players for Halladay. The Yankees recently traded top prospects to acquire centerfielder Curtis Granderson from Detroit. General manager Brian Cashman is famously reluctant to trade young players, which could affect his team's pursuit of Halladay.

Because the two American League East rivals often engage in intense and escalating battles for players - and hold strong trading chips such as pitchers Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes of New York and Clay Buchholz of Boston - the level of their participation will greatly affect the market for Halladay.

But if New York and Boston do not bid aggressively for Halladay, the Phils, because of their recent thrift and the strength of their farm system, would be well-positioned to acquire this off-season's prize.