Posted by: Peter Houston | December 18, 2009

Cy-onara Doc

I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. I almost didn’t want to believe my eyes. Roy Halladay was smiling, hoisting a red and white jersey with # 34 on the back, wearing a cap that had P, not J, on the front. It was a capital P Piss-off. What happened to this smiling braceface? It didn’t look right. It didn’t feel right. It hurt.

But of course, I understand it had to happen. Doc wanted out and we needed young prospects to “build”. But deep down I know it will never be the same, no matter who we got back. As I tried to make out the stats of our incoming future all-stars prospects through my tears, I reminded myself it was the right move for the franchise.

You all (should) know by now the impact Roy Halladay made on the Toronto Blue Jays, and the city of Toronto as a whole. He was arguably the greatest pitcher, if not player, in franchise history. He was everything a great pitcher should be; a fierce competitor, a workhorse on and off the field and a student of the game. He was a won the Cy Young award in 2003 and finished in the top 5 in voting the last four years. He boasts a career 148-76 record with a 3.43 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Since ’02, the Blue Jays went 149-89 (.654) when Halladay started, 493-564 (.466) when anyone else started. Those who knew him personally raved about him being an even better human being.

Watching Doc pitch was something special. Even when the Jays were struggling, it was reassuring to know that every 5th day it would be Roy’s turn, and everything would be OK. He was a perfectionist who had pinpoint command of all his pitches and regularly made great hitters look foolish. Against righties, he would start his 2-seamer off the plate and then it would pull back at the last second to nip the outside corner. To lefties, he’d often bust his cutter inside and the late action would shatter their bat. His out pitch was the big hook that he wasn’t afraid to drop in any count. It was known to buckle knees and bend backs.

Now all that’s left of Doc are those memories. The only time Jays fans will (probably) ever have the pleasure of watching him work his magic again at the Rogers Center is June 25-27th, when the Phillies come to Toronto for an interleague series. He won’t be working for the good guys because he wanted to be a winner, and we all know that the good guys always finish last. But who can blame him? He was with the Blue Jays for 12 years and never made the playoffs. He basically made it clear that he was not going to re-sign with Toronto when he became a free agent after this season. He had already signed two team friendly contracts so the Jays to build around him, but they failed to do so. So, at last year’s trade deadline the Jays tried to deal him, but couldn’t get anything done. Then the offseason came around and the trade talks swirled once again. But this time a new man was in control of Doc’s fate, rookie General Manager Alex Anthopoulos.

The Trade

AA, as he has become known, was promoted from assistant GM when former GM J.P. Ricciardi was fired. It’s not often a rookie GM is immediately given the duty of trading one of the best players in franchise history, but that’s exactly what AA had to do. And it wasn’t going to be easy.

AA wasn’t working with the same hand that J.P. had been dealt before the trade deadline. Aside from the fact Doc’s value was down because he was now closer to free agency, AA also lost a lot of leverage when Jeff Berry, who works with Halladay’s agent, set a spring training deadline for trading Doc. The whole league already knew the Jays were trying to unload Doc, but now they knew AA had a deadline, so he would be even more desperate to get something done. It’s safe to say AA went into his Halladay trade negotiations with his hands tied behind his back, unlike J.P.

But as far as I can tell, AA managed to create leverage. He said it all began (again) when Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro pulled him aside at the Winter Meetings and asked him what it would take to get Halladay. AA gave it to him straight, and said Kyle Drabek had to be in the deal. He said Amaro initially “balked” at the proposal (Hey Ruben, were you interested in writing a guest post or something?) and backed away. AA then played hard to get, and a week or so later said Amaro contacted him and was ready to talk Drabek for Doc. Next thing you know, Doc’s a Phillie.

So, in my expert opinion, what AA managed to get back for Halladay, all things considered, was impressive. The magnitude of the deal he pulled off was second to none. This was the first trade with two former Cy Young award winners. Why not make it 2.5? Drabek is the son of former Cy Young award winner Doug Drabek. As most of you probably know, the Jays got three former first round picks, Drabek, Brett Wallace and Travis d’Arnaud. How does that return stack up against other recent hauls in trades for former Cy Young award winners? Well, in terms of top draft picks, it’s more than Cleveland got when they traded C.C. Sabathia to the Brewers or Cliff Lee to the Phillies, and it’s more than the Twins got when they traded Johan Santana to the Mets. Granted, Lee and Sabathia were traded at the deadline with half a year left on their contract, but you still get the picture. I’m hoping this heist will end up being along the lines of the Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon robbery. No doubt this move will likely define the Jays, and AA, for years to come.

The Future

We won’t be able to assess this trade fairly for a few years. The young guns need to be given the chance to prove themselves in the bigs. All we know now is the potential is there. Drabek projects to be AT LEAST a third starter, maybe an ace but probably a good number 2, Wallace a middle of the order hitter and d’Arnaud a solid everyday catcher. For now, Wallace will start the year at AAA, Drabek at AA and d’Arnaud at A.

Wallace currently plays third, but lacks lateral range and will play first for the Jays, according to AA. He sees him as a potential “above average” defender at first. As for his bat, there is little doubt he will hit once he hits The Show. It shouldn’t be long before he’s playing a major part in the young, powerful heart of the Jays lineup. The 2-5 spots in the order are shaping up to be something along the lines of Hill-Lind-Wallace-Snider. However, this does leave us with 3 left-handed hitters, who don’t exactly burn rubber, in a row. But when they’re making it rain over Windows restaurant more than the June to September season in India, who’s complaining?

My question is: how much pressure will these young studs feel? Now that they’ve been traded for Roy Halladay, Blue Jays fans, executives, hot dog vendors, maybe even players, feel like these prospects are basically obliged to live up to their expectations. Anything less would almost be a betrayal, like they lied to us in a way. This type of pressure isn’t unprecedented, and has made a negative impact before. Elliotte Friedman caught up with Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. right after they were acquired by the Montreal Expos for Pedro Martinez.

“I can still remember the expressions on their faces as I asked about being traded for Pedro. Pavano just looked weary. He was clearly tired of hearing about it, didn’t want to deal with the question and gave a stock answer. Armas’ eyes conveyed something else. Not fear, but worry. As in, “Is everyone going to expect me to replace this guy?””

Eventually, The Shadow of Pedro proved too big a burden. Pavano went 24-35 with a 4.83 ERA, Armas 32-41, with a 4.21 ERA. Only time will tell how cold the Shadow of Roy will feel for Drabek, Wallace and d’Arnaud.

The bright side

To be honest, I’m just happy the P on Roy Halladay’s forehead* isn’t a B or an NY. I don’t feel like I need to explain how painful that would be. And now when Doc euthanizes the Yanks and Red Sox, it will be in the World Series. I know who my new favorite NL team is.

But that’s still a ways away. For now, he’s gone, and we’ve got to let him go. Believe it or not, Doc or not, there are still games to be played in 2010. But if you think you know what the opening day roster will look like, think again. AA was asked if he’s done making trades and he responded with a resounding “absolutely not.”

Just what the doctor ordered.

PH

*If you thought about R Kelly, get your head out of the gutter

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