The Christmas trees that stood in the center of the cramped lobby at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott this past week were an indication that the holiday season is upon us. After all, there are only a dozen shopping days left until Christmas. However, it was as much the Halladay season as it was the holiday season at the winter meetings. While all indications are that the Blue Jays didn’t come close to trading ace pitcher Roy Halladay during the four days in the icebox known as Indy, he certainly was the subject of plenty of speculation and trade rumors.

The juiciest rumor was that the Angels offered left-hander Joe Saunders, shortstop Erick Aybar, and outfield prospect Peter Bourjos. However, Angels general manager Tony Reagins denied that report, and the Blue Jays’ Alex Anthopoulos spent his first winter meetings as a GM staying out of the spotlight, a sharp departure in style from his predecessor, J.P. Ricciardi.

It seems as if the Halladay situation won’t be resolved anytime soon. The Angels appear to have the best shot at landing Halladay, but they would prefer to have him for more than one year and realize he is not inclined to sign with a West Coast team when he becomes eligible for free agency after next season. Thus, their primary focus is on trying to re-sign right-hander John Lackey. The Phillies and Yankees, meanwhile, are waiting for the Angels to make the first move. The question then is whether that’s the extent of the field. The Red Sox apparently aren’t overly interested in joining the fray. The Rays can’t afford to get in the bidding, as they have already stretched their 2010 payroll to $70 million, and the Dodgers are in limbo with owners Frank and Jamie McCourt in the process of getting divorced.

Though Halladay has spent his entire 12-year career with the Blue Jays, he wants to move on because he yet to appear in the postseason and knows the organization is ready to go into rebuilding mode after missing the playoffs for a 17th straight season in 2009. Just three franchises have postseason droughts longer or as long: the Expos/Nationals (28 seasons), Royals (24), and Pirates (17).

Taking all that into consideration, Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston stated the obvious in Indianapolis when he said he hopes the matter is resolved by the time spring training begins. Halladay’s agents have indicated he will invoke the no-trade clause in his contract if he is not traded by then. “I think it would be good for Doc and be good for the club to get this done,” Gaston said. “It just doesn’t work that way, though. They’ve got to get everything together. I know Alex wants to certainly make sure that we get something in return for Doc and make sure Doc goes where he wants, too. I’m a Doc fan and I understand that he wants to go and get a ring probably as quick as A.J. Burnett did last (season with the Yankees). I understand that I think he deserves to go somewhere and hopefully get that.”

The Blue Jays do not get as much media attention as most teams, as they are the only major-league franchise outside the United States. However, Halladay was thrust into the spotlight in July at the All-Star Game in St. Louis when he was tabbed to be the American League starter while being in the eye of continuous trade rumors. Halladay patiently answered question after question the day before the game and in the hours leading up to the game but it was obvious he was nearly overwhelmed by it.

Gaston, though, said Halladay’s situation had no bearing on the Blue Jays finishing 75-87 despite getting off to a 23-13 start and holding a 3 ½-game lead in the AL East on May 13. They finished 12 games under .500 for the season despite having a plus-27 run differential. “It wasn’t really a distraction for our team, but I think it affected him more than it affected anybody else, I really do,” Gaston said. “Doc is strong enough to handle it, but certainly he’s doing things that he’s not really used to doing everyday and that’s talking to media every day as opposed to every four or five days. As far as the team, we just got a lot of guys hurt last year. We had some guys that didn’t live up to their potential.”

Halladay is one of the top pitchers in the game-he was fifth in the major leagues with 8.2 SNLVAR last season and has ranked in the top eight in that category each of the last four years and six of the last eight seasons. Furthermore, Halladay finished just a smidge behind Tim Hudson for most SNLVAR in the first decade of the new millennium, 56.31-56.29. “I always like having Doc around,” Gaston said. “It’s nice to have a guy around who can certainly stop a losing streak, and I’ve known Doc for a long time. If he’s around, good. If he’s not around, I understand that, too.”

It was also the Holliday season with two Ls in Indianapolis as Scott Boras, agent for free-agent left fielder Matt Holliday, had a 90-minute meeting with the Cardinals‘ brass last Sunday night. Among those from the Cardinals side who attended were club chairman Bill DeWitt Jr., general manager John Mozeliak, and manager Tony La Russa, all making it clear they would like to retain the slugger.

Boras made the case that the Cardinals’ chances of re-signing first baseman Albert Pujols when he becomes eligible for free agency following the 2011 season could likely hinge on their signing Holliday. The Cardinals acquired Holliday from the Athletics in a trade last July 24, when he was hitting for a .296 EqA in the harder league. The Cardinals were 52-46, averaging 4.4 runs a game and leading the National League Central by 1 ½ games when Holliday joined them. He thrived, delivering a .347 EqA, as the Cards went 39-25 and averaged 4.7 runs a game after and won the division by 7 ½ games over the Cubs.

However, Boras’ contention that Holliday’s presence aided Pujols certainly isn’t aided as far as EqA is concerned. Pujols had a .379 EqA in 411 plate appearances before the trade, and .336 in 289 plate appearances after. “You kind of have to look at the component and say you may not be signing one player, you may be making the decision to retain two players,” Boras said. “Because (by not retaining Holliday) you’re putting a player (Pujols) in a position he was in prior to Matt that was very difficult for him. He’d get walked a lot. He’d get moved around a lot. It’s just tough to find players that take on hitting behind Albert Pujols. Matt’s numbers are his numbers and who he is. Just remember he stepped into a situation and did something few major leaguers could do, hit behind the game’s greatest player.”

There doesn’t seem to be a big market developing for Holliday yet, though the Red Sox could jump in now that it appears Bay is headed elsewhere. However, despite saying they aren’t going to spend big on free agents this winter, the Yankees are lurking. There is even some speculation the Nationals might try to make a big splash after falling short on their attempt to sign Mark Teixeira as a free agent last winter before he went to the Yankees.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa believes Holliday’s experience of playing in St. Louis last season, though it ended by being swept by the Dodgers in a National League Division Series, could help his team’s cause in re-signing the slugger. “I think that not only did the trade help us get into October, but I think it helps us in our chance to have him be a part of our club, because he experienced his teammates, Cardinals fan support, stuff like that,” La Russa said. “I also know that Scott is an experienced agent, has his reasons for doing what he’s doing and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. We rarely get mentioned as one of the teams with a chance to sign him, but we refuse to believe that. I think we’ve got a legitimate shot.”

It’s hard to make a holiday season pun with Milton Bradley because you don’t play games with that guy or even contemplate slotting Outfielders with Anger Issues Day somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Day. However, the Cubs came to Indy intent on trading Bradley, and he was rumored at various times to be headed to the Rays, Rangers, Mariners, Red Sox, and Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Jaguars. Yet Cubs GM Jim Hendry left town without dealing the right fielder that he suspended for the final two weeks of last season after he made disparaging remarks about the organization in an interview with the incomparable Bruce Miles of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.

Cubs manager Lou Piniella usually isn’t afraid to handle any subject. However, he backpedaled as fast as a 66-year-old man can when asked if he would accept Bradley back next season and gave a halting, disjointed answer. “Look that’s not my department, but I’ll tell you this: Milton played in I think 125, what, I don’t remember the exact amount, but he played in quite a few games for us,” Piniella said. “You know, it was his first year. But that’s Jim department, not mine.”

Sweet Lou was close: Bradley played in 124 games. However, he did not produce like the Cubs had hoped, as he hit .257/.378/.397 with 12 home runs in 473 plate appearances and produced a .276 EqA and a 2.4 WARP2. That was quite a bit off his 2008 numbers with the Rangers when he .321/.436/.563 with 22 home runs in 509 plate appearances with a .337 EqA and 5.5 WARP2. Bradley also rarely flashed his legendary temper during his season with the Rangers, as manager Ron Washington seemed to provide a comfortable environment.

“I don’t have the formula to why Milton did what he did for us, but I had Milton in Oakland (as a third-base coach) and I handled Milton like a man,” Washington said. “I called him out when it was time to call him out and he accepted it. Milton is a very smart guy and he knows when he’s done wrong. I just didn’t let it fester, and in the process, he enjoyed playing in Texas. He certainly enjoyed all of his teammates and the atmosphere that we created there. I just treated Milton like I treated everyone else, like a man.”

The list of players who were not tendered contracts by the midnight deadline this morning and became free agents includes a pitcher who twice won 19 games in a season (Chien-Ming Wang), a guy who hit 33 home runs in a season (Jack Cust), another guy who had 120 RBI in a season (Garrett Atkins), and two pitchers who served as their teams’ primary closers last season (Matt Capps and Mike MacDougal).

However, only four players who accounted for as much as one full win above replacement level were set loose into the open market. Top among those new to the open market is White Sox right-hander D.J. Carrasco, who had a 2.4 WARP2 in 2009. The others: Reds outfielder Jonny Gomes (1.7), Phillies reliever Clay Condrey (1.4) and Brewers left-handed reliever Mark DiFelice (1.2). However, DiFelice underwent arthroscopic shoulder surgery on December 3 and may miss next season.

Carrasco, a journeyman at 32 years old, figures to draw interest after posting a 3.76 ERA in 93 ⅓ innings for the White Sox last season while making 48 relief appearances and one start. He was used in low-leverage situations, as his 0.369 WXRL indicates but he also contributed 9.0 Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP), which ranked second on the team. Gomes, 29, had a .298 EqA, 18.6 VORP, 20 home runs, and .267/.338/.541 slash stats in 314 plate appearances. Condrey, 34, had a 3.00 ERA in 42 innings with a 0.422 WXRL mark.

MLB Rumors and Rumblings:
The Red Sox have found the asking price on free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre too high for their liking, and are more likely to try to sign first baseman Nick Johnson as a free agent and move first baseman Kevin Youkilis to third base once the trade of third baseman Mike Lowell to the Rangers for catching prospect Max Ramirez is completed. … The Phillies are willing to re-sign reliever Chan Ho Park for one year and $3 million, but he wants a two-year contract. They also have interest in free-agents John Smoltz (in a relief role) and Fernando Rodney, who is unlikely to re-sign with the Tigers. … The Mets are willing to increase their four-year, $63 million offer to Bay, but first want to see how his market plays out now. He reportedly is hoping for a five-year offer from the Mariners, but that is unlikely. … The Marlins are finding a softer market for slugging second baseman Dan Uggla than expected, primarily because teams know they are under financial pressure to trade him. … The Yankees are holding the line on a two-year offer to re-sign left fielder Johnny Damon. If they can’t work out a deal, the fall-back plan is re-signing designated hitter Hideki Matsui. … The White Sox and Royals are both interested in trading for Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner, who became expendable following the trade for Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson. … The Twins are pushing hard to sign free-agent utilityman Mark DeRosa to play third base. … Left-hander Mark Mulder, who has not pitched in a major-league game since July 9, 2008, is likely to go to spring training with the Brewers or Royals as a non-roster player. … The Tigers are considering looking at left-hander Phil Coke as a starter in spring training, though all 84 of his career major-league appearances with the Yankees were in relief; in 2008, he did start 21 minor-league games, mostly at Double-A Trenton, and he’s made 77 career starts down on the farm.

A thank you to Eric Seidman and Clay Davenport for their statistical research assistance.

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For the record, Mark DeFelice, stalwart of the Italian team in the WBC, is not left-handed.
Oops. As a fellow Italian who has seen him pitch multiple times, I shouldn't have had that brain cramp.
Great article, John. Thanks.