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Posted: Wednesday August 5, 2009 12:47PM; Updated: Wednesday August 5, 2009 12:57PM
Jon Heyman Jon Heyman >

Jays GM Ricciardi looks like a lame duck after botching Halladay talks

Story Highlights

Word is that upper-level Jays people aren't too thrilled with how things played out

"They overplayed their hand," one competing executive said of the Jays

Adrian Gonzalez and Felix Hernandez were both mentioned in pre-deadline talks

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J.P. Ricciardi
The Blue Jays have never made the playoffs during J.P. Ricciardi's tenure as general manger.
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Call them the Blew Jays. Because they blew the Roy Halladay trade talks big time.

Sure, the Jays still have Halladay, the best pitcher in baseball. But by all appearances it's a disappointed Halladay, who expected to be gone from Toronto by now.

And he's far from the only one who's displeased here. Toronto's fans didn't enjoy the shopping of Halladay. Plus, word is that some upper-level Jays people weren't too thrilled with how the shopping of Halladay was conducted. Nor should they be.

Halladay, who has veto power over trades with his full no-trade clause, is believed to have given Toronto an excellent opportunity to make it happen by providing a decent-sized list of teams he'd approve. That list has yet to be revealed, but sources who have spoken to the Blue Jays say they believe Halladay included a nice batch of teams that was heavy on the East and Midwest and included multiple teams that could afford him and also had the prospects to make it happen.

Halladay certainly tried hard here.

One person who heard about the list said he believes Halladay likely would have approved the Phillies, Red Sox, Rays, Yankees and Cardinals, plus perhaps the Cubs and Brewers. Two people with connections to Halladay believe that while Halladay much preferred to stay in the East and train in Florida he still might have OK'ed both Los Angeles teams, as well. But that's just a guess.

Those people both also believed that the prospect-rich Phillies, a first-place team in the NL that trains right near Halladay's winter home in Dunedin, Fla., were Halladay's first choice. And that's the deal that should have been made.

Toronto also talked extensively to Texas, another team with the prospects to make it happen. It was worth a try, but that one was a long shot from the start. While those teams agreed that $5 million would go to financially strapped Texas to pay part of Halladay's contract and also agreed on part of the package going to Toronto (it is believed top hitting prospect Justin Smoak was in the mix), they couldn't quite agree on the pitching element. Toronto was insisting on young left-hander Derek Holland, a piece Texas never agreed to. Those talks didn't die, though, until Ricciardi relayed word that Halladay wouldn't go to Texas late Thursday night, the night before the trade deadline.

The spinning continued later when Ricciardi was quoted on Sunday in the Boston Globe denying reports that Halladay was against a trade to Texas. But several other people report that Halladay didn't want to go there, and that in fact Ricciardi himself told Texas the bad news. Competing execs are speculating that the new story is Ricciardi's way of trying to get back on Halladay's good side after saying a couple weeks ago in a Toronto radio interview that the trade talks were instigated only after Halladay declined to have his contract extended in Toronto, putting Halladay in an awkward spot and serving no good purpose other than publicly justifying the shopping.

In any case, the real game changer for the Blue Jays in the Halladay trade talks actually came well before the Texas talks, though, when the Phillies decided to make their deal with the Indians for Cliff Lee, a terrific backup plan that killed Toronto's best hope. On the day of the Lee trade, Ricciardi said that the Lee going to Philly didn't change a thing for them. But it did. It changed the whole game because it took away their best option.

The Phillies gave up prospects Jason Knapp, Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco and Lou Marson for Lee. But they offered even more for Halladay, even though he is to be paid over double what Lee is to get through 2010 ($22 million to $9 million) and the two pitchers have performed similarly since the beginning of 2008 (31-16 for Halladay, 30-12 for Lee). According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (and later confirmed by others), the Phillies offered J.A. Happ, Michael Taylor, Carrasco and Donald for Halladay. If that's not enough, it probably should have been close enough to work a deal.

Here's a closer look at how the Jays blew it ...

Too much talk. The very personable, usually affable Ricciardi got the ball rolling weeks ago told Danny Knobler of that he'd start listening to offers for Halladay, and barely came up for air for weeks. (In a twist of irony, Riccardi didn't return calls for this story.) As a media person, I don't like to advocate secrecy. But one competing executive pointed out that the Mariners' trade discussions involving the younger, cheaper and just-as-talented Felix Hernandez were kept quiet while they were happening and went a lot smoother than these. No one even knew these talks were going on until two hours before the deadline, yet Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik was in talks with the Red Sox, Tigers, Yankees and others. While that deal didn't get done, either, there are no hard feelings there, and those were less pressing in that they have 2 1/2 years left with King Felix.


Too much candor (at times). There was no reason for Ricciardi to publicly admit that the Yankees and Red Sox would have had to pay a premium to get Halladay, competing execs now say. By doing so, it removed the threat to the Phillies and everyone else that the two richest teams ever really had a shot and thus potentially drove down the price. It also put the Red Sox and Yankees at ease in the knowledge that their main rival would never pay the price. Neither team ever seemed concerned, and now I understand why. Boston knew the Yankees would never give up both Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, plus two other big-time prospects, as was requested.

Too little effort to attach Vernon Wells or Alex Rios to the deal. Two competing execs say there was no mention of these high-priced outfielders. Perhaps no one would have taken the $90 million remaining on Wells, but it doesn't hurt to ask. The Jays certainly would have had to take far less in the way of prospects if Wells was in the deal, but it's clear now they are a financial mess.

Too many expectations. The Jays set up a dynamic where they had to get the unachievable. When it leaked that the Jays sought the Phillies' three most valuable under-25 players in Kyle Drabek, Happ and Dominic Brown, anything less would have seemed like a disappointment.

Too steep a price. The Phillies' reported offer of Happ, Taylor, Carrasco and Donald wasn't half bad. With the inclusion of Happ and Taylor (a "beast" according to one scout), it was much more than they gave up for Lee. Perhaps they could have been pushed to add Marson or Knapp. But Toronto never came off its asking price. The Phillies never were going to give up Drabek with Happ, not for a pitcher who's making an average of $15 million this year and next. "They overplayed their hand," one competing executive said of the Jays.

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