Blue Jays near trade for Roy Halladay

The Toronto Blue Jays are poised to make a bold and painful move toward rebuilding the franchise by dealing franchise icon Roy Halladay for a slew of young players that will help kick-start the process.

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roy Halladay works against the Tampa Bay Rays in August

The Toronto Blue Jays are poised to make a bold and painful move toward rebuilding the franchise by dealing franchise icon Roy Halladay for a slew of young players that will help kick-start the process.

Multiple reports say a tentative and complicated three-way deal has been reached that would send the right-handed ace to Philadelphia, with the Phillies flipping left-hander Cliff Lee, another Cy Young Award winner, to the Seattle Mariners.

Both teams would then send prospects to the Blue Jays and several sources indicated to The Canadian Press that right-hander Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que., would be among the return from Seattle. There was lots of speculation that outfielder Mike Saunders of Victoria would join him. The Phillies are believed to be including lefty J.A. Happ, righty Joe Blanton and outfielder Dominic Brown in the trade, although the names all around varied from source to source and report to report.

Alex Anthopoulos declined to comment on what looms as his first player move of major consequence since taking over as Blue Jays GM, and the organization went into a deep lockdown mode both publicly and privately.

Most of the information came out of Philadelphia, where Halladay was on Monday to take a physical required to complete the deal according to The Associated Press. The AP also said the commissioner’s office had granted the Phillies and Blue Jays a 72-hour window on Sunday to complete the trade, likely to give Philadelphia a chance to negotiate a contract extension with Halladay.

The 32-year-old’s US$40-million, three-year contract expires at the end of the 2010 season and includes a no-trade clause. ESPN.com suggested Halladay would agree a three-year extension worth around $60 million that would carry him through 2013 and include vesting options for additional years. Philadelphia has long been known to be one of Halladay’s preferred destinations, because of the opportunity to win it provides and its spring base in Clearwater, Fla., which is near his off-season home.

While all the details get sorted out, Blue Jays fans will have an opportunity to face up to the grim reality of life beyond Halladay

A six-time all-star and 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner, he was one of the best reasons to watch the Blue Jays over the past decade, during which he’s arguably been the game’s best pitcher.

Halladay is peerless when it comes to working quickly on the mound and attacking the strike zone, leaving opposing hitters shaking their heads, if not their hands, with his vicious cutter. He’s also a workhorse that has thrown 220 or more innings in six of the past eight seasons.

A divorce, however, has been imminent since the summer, when the Blue Jays approached Halladay about signing an extension and he said he’d prefer to wait and explore free agency. Then GM J.P. Ricciardi, with Halladay’s blessing, proceeded to launch a public auction of the right-hander throughout July (the Phillies were among his most ardent suitors before they traded for Lee instead), ultimately failing to make a deal ahead of the July 31 trade deadline.

Ricciardi was fired on the final weekend of the season and was replaced by Anthopoulos, who decided to rebuild the team knowing that he’d have to deal Halladay.

If the names are right, Anthopoulos will have garnered a strong return of young players who can join the new emerging core and he will have done it by dealing Halladay to the National League instead of to one of the American League East beasts. Both the World Series champion New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who reached preliminary agreement on a five-year contract with free agent right-hander John Lackey on Monday, had shown some interest in acquiring Halladay.

Aumont, a 20-year-old taken 11th overall in the 2007 draft, is an imposing six-foot-seven, 220-pound right-hander who throws in the high 90s with a breaking ball that can be dominant. He recorded 16 saves in 44 relief appearances between single-A and double-A, and some in the Mariners organization feel he could be ready to pitch in the majors next year.

Saunders, an athletic 23-year-old, batted .221 in 46 games for Seattle last season but has great power and speed at the plate with a solid glove in the field.

Happ, a 27-year-old lefty, went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA in 35 games, 23 starts, for the Phillies in a stellar rookie year.

Brown, 21, batted a combined .299 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs in 106 games at three minor-league levels.

Blanton, 29, was 12-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 31 starts for the Phillies and it wasn’t clear if the Blue Jays would keep him, or flip him elsewhere. He made $5,475,000 last year and is arbitration eligible.

It’s also possible he’d be sent to Seattle for additional prospects.

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