TORONTO — The Toronto Blue Jays used to ignore all Roy Halladay trade inquiries.
General manager J.P. Ricciardi said Tuesday that he’s willing to listen to offers for the six-time all-star, a significant shift in organizational thinking about the franchise’s bedrock pitcher.
Ricciardi attempted to downplay the change in outlook, insisting he was by no means shopping or eager to deal Halladay.
But it’s difficult to interpret his comments as anything other than an open call for interested clubs to ante up for arguably the best pitcher in baseball, setting the stage for perhaps the toughest and most important decision in his eight seasons as GM.
“I don’t think anything has changed, I just think, ’You know what, why not listen? The worst we can say is no,”’ Ricciardi told The Canadian Press.
“If someone wants Roy and they’re willing to blow us away, we’d be willing to listen, that’s all I’m saying. That doesn’t mean we’d trade him, that doesn’t mean we’re looking to trade him. All it means is we’d be willing to listen.
“In the past we weren’t willing to listen, and we figured let’s just see what someone’s got out there and what someone is willing to offer.”
Ricciardi’s comments expanded on those he made in recent interviews with a pair of U.S. outlets that seemed to invite offers for Halladay.
Those statements were barely hours old when commentaries on why various teams should make a pitch for Halladay (10-2, 2.79 ERA in 16 starts), and what it would take to get him began to fill the blogosphere.
That fervour will only pick up as the July 31 trade deadline nears, and various contenders weigh the merits of gutting their farm systems to land a true difference-maker.
“A lot of this is going to be a mob mentality,” said Ricciardi. “We’re not inclined to move him, we’re more inclined to listen, that’s all.”
Still, that is a marked departure from talk last season about a contract extension for the 32-year-old, who is making US$14.25 million and is due $15.75 million in 2010.
Ricciardi was vague when asked if payroll considerations — the Blue Jays have $82.45 million committed to eight players including Halladay next year — were a factor.
“I’m not so sure payroll-wise where we’re going to be able to be after 2010. I’m not so sure that the player wants to stay here beyond 2010. I’m not sure of those things,” he said. “So those are all things we have to weigh out. He’s under contract through next year and worst-case scenario, he does not sign back with us and we get two draft picks.”
While any potential deal would be terribly traumatic for the team’s long-suffering fans who love Halladay like few other players in team history, it also would strip the team of its safety net in the starting rotation and all but officially signal a white flag on the current season.
After a hot start the Blue Jays have faded badly in recent weeks and are stumbling toward the all-star break as the toll of injuries and underperformance weighs them down.
Ricciardi said he would “have to evaluate the whole month and see where we’re going,” ahead of the trade deadline, saying a turnaround would prompt him to add players.
But if the team continues to flounder, the vultures will circle and Ricciardi will need to make a deal that sets up the team for a future run with different players.