Toronto’s ace ice cold

What kind of an ace is Roy Halladay? With a 144-73 career record, a lifetime ERA of 3.47, and only being 32 years of age, it’s hard to find many—if any—more qualified pitchers to build a staff around (and keep in mind these stats come on a team that has to the Yankees and the Red Sox a combined 38 times each season).

By June 7, Halladay was on track to have a career year.  His complete-game shutout of Kansas City that day ran his record to 10-1, and dropped his ERA to a tidy 2.52.

On July 6, Halladay’s season was turned upside-down.  Blue Jays’ GM J.P. Ricciardi announced that day that he would listen to offers for the 11-year veteran.  Even the typically cool-under-pressure Halladay was not able to pitch out of the off-the-field jam his GM put him in.

Today’s game against Boston was just another in an un-Halladay-like month.  He went six innings, surrendering seven hits and four runs in a 7-0 Blue Jay loss.  The decision put him at 2-3 with a 4.50 ERA in the month of August. Statistically, it’s the worst month with a minimum of four starts in his career.

Since the announcement of the trade, the flood of interviews, trade rumors and offers, and thoughts of “will I still live in Toronto tomorrow?” have surrounded Halladay.  He has gone 3-6 since the announcement, and his ERA has risen from 2.79 to 3.13.  Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have fallen to 12 games below .500 and 23 games back of the first-place Yankees.

Halladay has spent his 11 years off the beaten path in Toronto.  Since the trade talks began, he has been on the front burner of baseball talk around the nation.  One might be inclined to ask if he can handle the scrutiny of a national media audience?  Having to make four starts a year in the spotlight in Boston and New York is one thing, but pitching for a team in a pennant race in a large market is quite another.

There is no doubt the Blue Jays will move Halladay by the end of next year when his contract expires, but the list of possible destinations is becoming increasingly exclusive.  He has so far declined to negotiate an extension to stay in Toronto. With Philadelphia capturing Cliff Lee, they are in all likelihood out of the running.  The Cardinals were rumored to have interest for a while, but they have a big decision to make this year on Matt Holliday, and appear to already have two bona fide aces in Chris Carpenter and Major League wins leader Adam Wainwright. Some of the usual supects in such a sweepstakes-The Mets (with an unstable front office and a farm system that has been exposed by their myriad injuries) and the Cubs (already trying to offload last year’s acquisition Rich Harden through waivers amidst an ongoing sale of the club)-are also less than definite participants.

That leaves two obvious candidates: The Red Sox and Yankees.

It’s hard to see Moneyball disciple Ricciardi trading an ace to a team he’s looking up at in the standings.  But when faced with losing Halladay for nothing in free agency following next year, it may be his only option.

While it would be a no-brainer for either team to take Halladay if offered, what can they expect out of him?  Can he perform under the microscope in a big-time media market like Boston or New York?  In Toronto, finishing .500 qualifies as a good season.  In Boston and New York, anything short of a World Series title is failure. That kind of pressure can make an ace look like an ordinary pitcher pretty quickly.

-James Hill ’11

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