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Halladay Deal Could Be Second “Holliday” for Fantasy Owners

With exactly one week before the MLB Trade Deadline, Roy Halladay — the biggest prize available — remains a Blue Jay, and general manager J.P. Ricciardi indicated Tuesday the club is unlikely to deal the ace.

Naturally, that statement can be chalked up as GM jockeying, and Ricciardi is one of the best in the business when it comes to that.  When he first made it known that he would be open to hearing Halladay offers back on July 7, two of the first phone calls he received were from Theo Epstein of the Red Sox and Brian Cashman of the Yankees.

The one thing Toronto would like to avoid is dealing Doc to an AL East foe, because 1) it would further alter the balance of power in baseball’s most competitive division, and 2) Halladay is the one guy available who would be an absolute game-changer in the never-ending Sox-Yanks arms race.

However, any smart GM knows that if he wants to max out the value of a star player whose departure is imminent, the talks must first go through Boston and New York.  In this case, Halladay has one year left on his contract, and as opposed to the past, said he does not want to sign a contract extension.  Which means Ricciardi essentially has three windows in which to deal him for some significant parts: before the Trade Deadline, in the offseason, before the 2010 Trade Deadline.

The chances of Halladay landing in Beantown or the Big Apple are slim, considering the prices would likely be too steep for either club — probably Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard from the Sox or Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes from the Yanks — to bite on.  But a bidding/prospect war is exactly what Ricciardi wants, and any fantasy owners with Halladay should want the same.  Why?

Because there’s another team in the Northeast Corridor that has the pieces to acquire Halladay, and as opposed to Boston and New York, really really needs his services.  That would be the defending champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Relying on a rotation that includes Cole Hamels (struggling), Jamie Moyer (ancient) and Joe Blanton (serviceable at best), the Phils can’t expect to mount a serious title defense come October without doing something significant to their rotation, particularly given the imploding act that has been Brad Lidge this year.  The one bright spot on their staff has been 26-year-old rookie left-hander, J.A. Happ.  Happ is big (6-6), throws in the mid 90s and is 7-0 with a 2.68 ERA in 23 games (11 starts) this season.

If the Phillies can get Toronto to accept a package of Happ and a few other top prospects (outfielders Michael Taylor and Dominic Brown have been discussed), Halladay’s fantasy value will go through the roof.

Think about it for a minute.  Doc has spent his entire career pitching in the trenches of the AL East, the majority of which he’s done in the era of the unbalanced schedule.  Of his 273 career starts, 68 (or 25 percent) have come against the Red Sox and Yankees.  He’s hurled 20 complete games from 2007-09, most in the bigs, and possesses a career ERA of 3.46.

Now, project those numbers to a league without the DH and a division with the Marlins and Nationals instead of the Red Sox and Yankees.  Yikes.

Everyone saw what CC Sabathia did when he made the move to the NL in the second half of 2008 (11-2, 1.65 ERA, seven complete games in 17 starts).  Well, Halladay is better than Sabathia, so fantasy owners can do the math.

While Halladay talks have dominated the airwaves and water coolers for the better part of three weeks, just as I was writing this piece, a deal of comparable proportions actually got done.  The Cardinals sent three players to the A’s in exchange for outfielder Matt Holliday.

This is a major move for St. Louis, as the Cardinals look to bolster their lineup for a run at a second World Series in four years.  But it’s just as big for fantasy owners with Holliday, who was never right in the American League in the middle of an extremely soft Oakland lineup.  But if he was ever settling into a groove, it was just recently, as he’s hit .344 with a .986 OPS this month.  Additionally, he came out of the All-Star break swinging a fiery stick, cranking three homers and knocking in 11 runs over the last eight games, easily his most prolific stretch this season.

So not only is a scorching Holliday headed back to the familiarity of the National League, but he’s leaving a lineup where he protected the likes of Kurt Suzuki and Scott Hairston, and slipping into a batting order where he’ll likely hit between Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick, the most fearsome slugger in the game and one of the hottest hitters over the last month.

For all intents and purposes, Holliday was a fantasy bust for the first three months of the 2009 season.  Those days appear to be over, as he’s shown signs of life lately and is now primed for a monstrous stretch run with a contender.

Owners with the bopper should be licking their chops, and if they happen to also employ one Roy Halladay, there just might be a second “Holliday” coming within the next week.

Torre All Class in the “Citi”

Bill O’Reilly was standing next to third base as the Mets were taking batting practice before Thursday’s game vs. the Dodgers at Citi Field.

The real “no spin zone”, however, was a few paces away over in the visitors dugout, where manager Joe Torre was engaging a group of reporters — a handful of whom he knew well from his days managing the Yankees up in the Bronx.

Torre touched on a variety of team topics, from Orlando Hudson’s struggles — Torre dropped him to seventh in the lineup for the first time all season and he responded with a three-run double in the first — to the roster flexibility he’s afforded by having such a talented nucleus.

When asked why Matt Kemp has spent a lot of time recently in the eight hole, he returned the question to the reporter, asking him who he would put there (Kemp is 24-for-45 with seven RBIs and seven runs in that spot).  He wasn’t being condescending; Joe Torre is as straight of a shooter as there is in a profession characterized by hedging and line-feeding.  He was genuinely inquiring whether anyone had a better idea of what to do with a lineup full of dynamic, young and mostly interchangeable parts.  The old “if ain’t broke don’t — the bleep — fix it” adage, if you will.  Other managers would have verbalized some form of that saying as a response; Torre merely implied it.  Everyone had a laugh.

It’s that kind of candor and sincerity that endeared Torre to the city of New York, its fans, and the media.  When the man speaks to you, you don’t feel like he’s doing his civic duty in a public setting.  You could, for all intents and purposes, be having the talk over a couple of beers.  That’s the wonder of Torre, the reason why most associated with him say there’s no one else like him in the game.

The topic of the press conference shifted to the Yankees and Torre spoke about how lucky he was to inherit a Yankees club that would have been playoff-bound regardless of whether he was there.  He talked about how that team and experience shaped him — he never made the playoffs in 18 seasons as a player and got to one October in a combined 15 years managing the Mets, Braves and Cardinals.

For a man who had played his first nine seasons with Hank Aaron, made nine All-Star teams, won an MVP in 1971 and arrived in New York in 1996 having spent more than 30 years in the game without so much as sniffing the promised land, to win four titles in a five-year span was as humbling as it was exhilarating.

Torre, for so long one of the game’s class acts, was suddenly its most celebrated winner.  Yet once the 2000s hit and the Yanks started flaming out annually in October, people (read: his Boss) started to question whether he was really that elite manager who presided over the glory years or merely a guy who managed some egos and tapped his right arm to summon his otherworldly closer.

That, Torre said, was when he began to sniff the beginning of the end.

“When we got to the World Series and lost in ’01 and ’03, and that was a failure…” Torre said before tailing off.  He said that was when he knew expectations had become unrealistic, and without saying it, implied that gratitude should be doled out for making the playoffs 12 straight years, capturing six pennants and winning four rings.

As for the “managing egos isn’t managing” argument that his few detractors use as ammo against him, try spending a day in a clubhouse, let alone 162.  Then stick a bunch of bona fide superstars and a handful of Hall of Famers in there and put it in the biggest sports market in the world.  That’s the world he inhabited for 12 years, the world so many dismissed as solely a privilege to be a part of without acknowledging what a taxing and perpetual balancing act it was.

When the conversation returned to the Dodgers and Manny’s return, Torre spoke about how lucky they were to have a guy like Manny to stick in the middle of the lineup.  He’s right, but given what’s gone down in the last two months, the truth is Manny is equally lucky to have Torre as his manager.

Case in point: When Manny was ejected Tuesday for flipping his batting gloves in the direction of home-plate umpire John Hirschbeck, he said afterward, “[Hirschbeck] made a mistake.  I think it’s a ball.  I just threw my pad and walked to the field. I was coming out in the fifth anyway, so no big deal.”

The reality was only Manny — of course — knew he was coming out of the game regardless in the fifth.  When that tidbit was presented to Torre, he deadpanned, “He told me that, too.  I wasn’t aware of that.”  That’s a player’s manager, a term that should never be thrown around loosely or be underappreciated.  That’s Joe Torre.

Throughout the 30-minute gathering with the media Thursday, there were constant roars from planes taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport and passing just above the ballpark, rendering Torre inaudible for 15 or so seconds every two minutes.  Apparently, he had just concluded filming some sort of promotional spot on the field before the press conference, and upon seeing a Mets executive walking by the dugout, shouted over everyone: “Thanks a lot for having the planes diverted around the stadium, it really helped.”

“And just as I was finishing, the rehearsal of the national anthem was perfect!”

Everyone had a laugh.