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July 9, 2009

Prospectus Hit and Run

Call the Doctor

by Jay Jaffe

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Earlier this week, with the Blue Jays fading into fourth place in the AL East, general manager J.P. Ricciardi opened up the possibility that his club might be willing to trade Roy Halladay. At 10-2 with a 2.79 ERA, he's a legitimate Cy Young candidate and a contender for the title of the best pitcher in baseball. Our Support-Neutral pitching stats tell us he's been worth 3.9 wins above replacement level over a half-season of work, and it's no stretch to think he'd be worth three additional wins to nearly any team that bumps aside their fifth starter, a massive upgrade.

The Jays' ace won't come cheap with regards to blood or treasure, however. Not only will he take multiple top prospects to acquire, he's owed the balance of a $14.25 million contract this year and then $15.75 million next year, a price that will scare away some teams operating in a tight economy. That's also before considering that waiving his no-trade clause might require a Johan Santana-style extension, though Ricciardi says he won't open a negotiating window for a potential suitor.

Those obstacles suggest a trade isn't imminent, but from the standpoint of these five teams, it should be, as an extra three starts between now and the July 31 deadline would be worth three-quarters of a win beyond a replacement-level fifth starter. In compiling this list, we'll assume that despite the financial and/or talent riches of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, Ricciardi won't deal his ace within the division. Without concerning ourselves with the exact prospect package it might take to land Halladay, we'll be mindful of a team's organizational strength as well as their finances, but the focus is still on need (all stats through Tuesday).

1. Phillies: 5.02 rotation ERA (15th in NL), 6.0 SNLVAR (13th in NL)
No other team combines the resources and the motivation to deal for Doc than the defending champs, who lead the NL East mainly because their offense is pummeling opponents into submission, scoring one-third of a run more per game than any other NL team. With Cole Hamels battling a post-championship hangover and Brett Myers probably done for the year due to hip surgery, rookie J.A. Happ is the only Phils starter who's beating the park-adjusted league-average ERA. His arrival has coincided with an improved performance from the starting five (a 3.98 ERA since May 23), but they remain vulnerable to the long ball (1.3 HR/9 in that span, against 1.6 HR/9 overall), and the staff as a whole is the league's most fly ball-oriented, a bad match for Citizens Bank Park. Halladay's ability to generate ground balls (56.4 percent of balls in play, fifth in the majors) would be an ideal tonic. Pairing him with Hamels as one-two punch should give potential post-season opponents night sweats.

2. Rangers: 4.54 rotation ERA (8th in AL), 8.8 SNLVAR (7th in AL)
A 35-point jump in Defensive Efficiency spearheaded by rookie shortstop Elvis Andrus has done wonders for the Rangers' run prevention. Unlike last year's Rays, though, this rotation doesn't miss many bats, and the gap between their 4.54 ERA and their 5.00 FIP suggests regression ahead. They're last in the league in both strikeout rate (5.2 K/9) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.6), and just 11th in homer rate (1.2 HR/9). While Halladay's 7.6 K/9 isn't dazzling, he's all about economy; at 14.1 pitches per inning, he's tied for the honor of the league's most efficient starter. Furthermore, he's still seventh in whiffs, his 5.8 K/BB ratio is second, and his 0.8 HR/9 is 10th. More than any other team, the Rangers have prospects to deal, but owner Tom Hicks' financial woes may limit their appetite for a big-ticket salary.

3. Brewers: 5.01 rotation ERA (14th in NL), 5.5 SNLVAR (14th in NL)
Even with Ryan Braun pressing the case that the Brewers need better starting pitching to survive the NL Central race, general manager Doug Melvin has continually cautioned that he won't trade his top prospects in another CC Sabathia-sized deal. Braun has a point, however. Yovani Gallardo is the only Brewer starter with an ERA better than the park-adjusted league average, and with David Bush injured and Manny Parra banished to the minors, the team has been forced to call upon journeyman Mike Burns, who earned his first major league win just two weeks shy of his 31st birthday. Like Sabathia last year, Halladay could dominate in the Central, which features four offenses scoring at rates below the league average.

4. Angels: 4.57 rotation ERA (10thin AL), 8.3 SNLVAR (10th in AL)
Pitching has been the Halos' hallmark in recent years, but with injuries limiting John Lackey and Ervin Santana to a combined 5.98 ERA in 18 starts (just seven of them quality starts), they can't afford to rest on their laurels in order to fend off the Rangers. Nor can they expect rotation-fillers like Matt Palmer, Shane Loux, and Sean O'Sullivan to keep supplying league-average performances indefinitely. A big-market team that's perennially competitive, financially able, and ensconced in a pitcher-friendly environment may be just what the Doctor ordered, though the Angels' system ain't what it used to be, prospect-wise.

5. Cardinals: 3.75 rotation ERA (3rd in NL), 10.2 SNLVAR (6th in NL)
The Cardinals' rotation appears to be relatively sound, with a performance that's in line with their peripherals (3.88 FIP) despite a strikeout rate that's the league's third lowest; their staff generates the majors' highest ground-ball rate and the league's lowest walk rate. But with four other teams within 3 games in the NL Central, Kyle Lohse on the DL, and Todd Wellemeyer struggling (5.58 ERA), they can't afford complacency. Alas, a bat may be a bigger priority.

The Rest: The Mets are certainly willing to take on payroll, but with a 12-22 record since June began, a decimated lineup that won't be near whole anytime soon, and a version of Santana that's put up a 5.61 ERA with disturbingly uncharacteristic peripherals (4.4 K/9, 2.1 HR/9) over his last seven starts, it's a stretch to suggest that Halladay is enough. ... Given how vocal general manager Kenny Williams has been about the White Sox's payroll limitations, they're also likely out of the Halladay hunt. With a 4.06 rotation ERA (second in the AL), they'd do better to focus on upgrading their low-OBP sinkholes anyway. ... If the Twins didn't keep Santana, they won't deal for Halladay. ... The Giants, who may have lost Randy Johnson for six weeks, could certainly use a high-impact replacement to preserve their current wild-card lead, but they too are in far bigger need of a big bat. ... The Dodgers certainly have the resources to pull off a Halladay deal, but with a seven-game cushion in the NL West and the league's second-best ERA, they'd be killing flies with a sledgehammer.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Jay Jaffe is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jay's other articles. You can contact Jay by clicking here

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15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Mountainhawk

I get the feeling from the press in Philly that they are unwilling to move Drabek, so it's unlikely to get done unless that changes.

Also, over half of that 1/3 of a run lead on the NL comes from Monday's game, right? Figure a normal game gets them 6 runs, so 16 excess runs in a single game pushes up the average by about .20 runs per game.

Jul 09, 2009 12:04 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Fair point on the scoring. When I wrote that I'd momentarily forgotten they had just dropped 22 on the Reds. Take it away and they're scoring 5.10 runs per game, 0.06 more than the park-aided Rockies (who scored 10 last night after the article was delivered) and 0.22 more than the Dodgers.

As for Drabek, there's generally a whole lot of posturing to be done by both sides before a deal gets made, though recent history suggests that negotiating prospects through the press does bode poorly.

Jul 09, 2009 12:46 PM
 
amazin_mess
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It will get done.

Halladay to Philly for Drabek, Taylor, Donald and Knapp. That's a pretty solid return. The only other possibility, in my humble opinion, is a deal to LAA centered around Brandon Wood.

Jul 09, 2009 14:01 PM
rating: -4
 
Matt Kory

"It will get done."

JP? Is that you?

Jul 10, 2009 08:25 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

I really wonder about the Cardinals trying to do this deal. Two reasons. First, a rotation of Doc/Carpenter/Wainwright/Lohse/Pineiro (2009 version) looks downright evil, enough to make up for not landing that bat instead. Second, their top prospect Brett Wallace may have a hard time finding a place to play in St. Louis -- there are still questions about his fielding at 3B, and I don't care HOW well he hits, he ain't gonna displace Pujols at 1B. Trading Wallace to get Doc may be akin to gambling with house money, if the add-ons aren't exorbitant.

Jul 09, 2009 15:45 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

That's pretty much my thinking as well - a parallel to last year's Sabathia deal, with the Brewers using Matt LaPorta, who was blocked at first base by Prince Fielder and in left by Ryan Braun, as the main chip.

Jul 09, 2009 15:48 PM
 
phuturephillies

Sure, but I think the dropoff from Wallace to the next group of Cardinals prospects is too big for them to find a deal equal to what the Phillies can offer.

Jul 09, 2009 19:55 PM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Not really. Check Kevin Goldstein's pre-season prospect lists. In any event, both teams, and several others, have enough that they quote-unquote "could" get the deal done. The question is, SHOULD they? Will they miss what they give up so much that they ultimately regret the deal, after Halladay gets old or moves on via free agency?

That is where St. Louis has the advantage; it may be very difficult for Wallace to crack the big-league roster unless he has a great defensive leap forward, La Russa stops obsessing with infield defense, or (perish the thought) something happens to Pujols. Drabek's path to the majors is much clearer and less impeded by either lack of a position or a superstar in front of him. The Phillies should be more reluctant to trade him than the Cardinals should to trade Walrus. This is the regard in which St. Louis would be playing with house money.

That said, if I'm John Mozeliak, I don't make a Halladay/Wallace+ deal unless the "plus" is relatively minimal. As Jay points out, starting pitching isn't quite the gaping wound for the Cardinals that it is for many teams. On the other side of the trade, Pablo Sandoval is proving this year that a weird-looking guy who's marginal on defense and slow on the bases, but tears the cover off the ball, is still useful to have around. That's the kind of player Wallace is; subtract the switch-hitting and positional flexibility, such as it is (he can only play subpar defense at three positions to Sandoval's four...), and add a healthy portion of strike-zone discipline that Panda lacks, and they're fairly similar players. That guy can play for me any time, and I'd part with him only reluctantly -- but never say never.

Jul 10, 2009 07:36 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Wallace + minimal is not enough for Halladay. Wallace does not hit for enough power to make him the sole centrepiece - especially without other significant pieces (Jones & Kozma & arm - Mortensen?)

Jul 10, 2009 08:24 AM
rating: 0
 
phuturephillies

Well, compare the top guys from each team's Top 11 heading into the season

5 Star: Carrasco
4 Star: Drabek, Taylor
3 Star: D'Arnaud, Marson, Donald, Brown, Happ, Collier, Knapp, Hewitt

I think its a lock that Brown is at least a 4 star, maybe a 5, heading into next year, while Carrasco probably moves down to a 4. Drabek and Taylor both should be 5 star guys. That would give them three 5 star prospects right off the top. Knapp probably also moves up to 4 star, all things considered. So you're looking at

5 Star: Drabek, Taylor, Brown
4 Star: Carrasco, Knapp

The Cards top 11

5 Star: Wallace, Rasmus
4 Star: Perez, D Jones
3 Star: Todd, Reifer, Anderson, Garcia, Lynn, Motte
2 Star: Vazquez

Rasmus won't qualify and won't be traded anyway. Perez is gone. Jones is a quality guy, but I think Brown has the edge here if we're comparing prospects. Do you see any of the three star guys being 4 stars heading into next year? Mateo might be a 4 star, but they didn't sign him a week ago to trade him for Halladay.

Looking at the two systems, I think the Phillies system is superior by a decent margin. Wallace has been good not great this year, though his assignment has been aggressive. But would you rather have a deal consisting of

Wallace + Daryl Jones + 2 relievers (Todd, Reifer) + Lynn

or

Happ + Drabek + Taylor + Donald + a lesser guy?

Jul 10, 2009 08:32 AM
rating: 0
 
Rob_in_CT

Hmm... If you're the Dodgers, why not go ahead and kill flies with a sledgehammer? The goal isn't just to win the division, but to win the WS. Plus, you get Doc for next year too.

Jul 10, 2009 06:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

There's certainly something to be said for that strategy, particularly if you consider that re-signning Manny was an all-in strategy. It's just that the motivation for them may not be as strong as for some other teams.

Additionally, they're actually a bit short on bona fide blue chippers right now but rich in cost-controlled young major leaguers nearing arbitration, and they'd create a hole in their lineup by trading one or two of them.

Jul 10, 2009 07:15 AM
 
R.A.Wagman

In the fun realm of speculation, I'll throw my hat into the rumour world. A trade with LA.
To LA: Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells
To TO: Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Scott Elbert and Juan Pierre

Jul 10, 2009 08:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Jay Jaffe
BP staff

Luckily Frank McCourt is such a miser that such a deal will never go down.

If it did, they'd never find all the pieces of Ned Colletti, and I'd be filing the Hit List from some California prison.

Jul 10, 2009 09:38 AM
 
hessshaun

IMO, no positional prospect is going to "get it done" when talking about this deal. Wallace is a nice player, but when you are scoring runs at a nice clip without Wells or Rios producing at their capable levels, losing 200+ innings, in an already decimated rotation, would dictate the what they are looking for in return. Sure a positional player can be nice, but with the Jays may need three pitchers to just replace his innings. I'm not sure they have that in their system with all the youngsters they called up.

Jul 10, 2009 08:17 AM
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