And not just any ace: the consensus within major league baseball is that Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the big leagues. Yes, Johan Santana has won more Cy Young awards. Yes, Tim Lincecum is a superb young starter. Yes, Zack Greinke is putting up a phenomenal season for the sad-sack Kansas City Royals.
That being said, "Doc" has an unmatched pedigree of effectiveness, stamina, and character. Not only that, he is signed through the end of the 2010 season at a below-market salary of 15.75MM. (Essentially, he's so good he's actually underpaid, which just goes to show you that the average ML player is overpaid.)
And this week, the general manager of the Blue Jays, J.P. Ricciardi, spoke to the media and said that he'd listen to trade offers if teams enquired about Halladay. (Halladay has a full no-trade clause in his contract that he'd have to waive before any deal could be finalized.) And this caused a predictable furor around baseball, even though this isn't anything new. Ricciardi didn't say he was looking to move his best player; he clearly stated that he'd have to be overwhelmed by any trade offer before he'd seriously consider approaching Halladay and asking him to waive his no-trade clause.
So, why should the Jays trade their most popular and irreplaceable player? There are a few reasons why it might be a good idea.
1) Halladay would fetch a mint in young blue-chip prospects. The brain trusts of would-be contenders are fully aware that Halladay is a sure thing; incremental improvements for would-be playoff teams are hard to come by and extremely valuable in financial terms (increased playoff revenue, etc.). As cited above, marginal wins are easily worth 5MM per win; Roy Halladay has an established performance level of 6-7 wins a year, highest in baseball amongst starting pitchers, so he's roughly worth 40-50 MM of prospects before the Jays would give him up. (An early rumour from a source within the St. Louis Cardinals: "Halladay? We'd give (Ricciardi) our minor league system and ask him to circle five names."
NB. If Roy Halladay didn't sign a contract extension with his new team, he would be a Type A free agent and the team that lost him would receive two first round compensation picks: a nice insurance policy softening the cost of trading for him, and they'd still get 1.5 seasons of superlative performance from him in the meantime.
2) The Jays have budget problems in the near future. They currently have two outfielders signed to albtross contracts, which severely hampers their ability to construct their team.
3) The Jays are in the toughest division in baseball. Essentially, unless they can construct one of the two or three best teams in the majors, they have no chance of making the playoffs. This is a huge challenge that cannot be overstated. The Yankees spend so much money on their roster that they are always in contention for the playoffs. The Red Sox are the same. The Rays have built a juggernaut after ten years of top-five draft picks, and even the Orioles have begun to field a very competitive team after many years of mediocrity. The strength of schedule in the AL East is ridiculously high. So, they might have to take a step back (they have been stuck in the 6-10 range recently, which has meant they've only been finishing third or fourth in the division) in order to take two steps forward.
4) The Jays' chief organizational strength is young pitching. If they can continue to churn out young pitchers who can do a credible job, transforming Halladay into some blue-chip hitting prospects (especially a shortstop, a huge organizational weakness), has its appeal. They can't replace Halladay, but they still might be better off from a team-building standpoint without him.
My head can come up with some logical reasons why the Jays should strongly consider trading Roy Halladay if the price is right.
But my heart doesn't care. I hope they can find other solutions to their problems and keep the best pitcher in franchise history right where he belongs.