Roy Halladay is last pitching prize available as Indians send Cliff Lee to Phillies

There was one true ace on the market. There still is.

Cliff Lee is a very good pitcher, with a Cy Young Award on his mantel and a 22-win season on his resume. The Philadelphia Phillies will be delighted to have him.

Yet Lee is no Roy Halladay. Take his word for it.

“That’s a compliment, to be mentioned alongside Halladay,” Lee said. “I’m honored to be a poor man’s Halladay. I’ll take second behind him.”

The Phillies got Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco from the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, leaving the Dodgers and Angels in the fight over Halladay, and over the relief pitchers available in a trade.


The Dodgers and Angels are in the same arms races.

If, say, the Dodgers get George Sherrill, Chad Qualls or John Grabow for the eighth inning, we can’t imagine Angels fans marching on the Big A.

But, if the Angels get Halladay, we can imagine Dodgers fans up in arms, over how the Angels got the arm that would have given the Dodgers their best chance to get to the World Series for the first time in 21 years.

Halladay does not pitch for the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees, so he plays in relative obscurity. Let there be no doubt how good this guy is.

“The guy is the best pitcher in the league,” the Angels’ Chone Figgins told Times blogger Steve Bisheff. “The absolute best.”

The Dodgers say that they won’t trade anyone off their major league roster. The Phillies got Lee without trading anyone off their major league roster.

Ned Colletti, the Dodgers’ general manager, spoke with reporters Wednesday but would not say what his club might have offered for Lee.

So back to Halladay, and back to square one for his Toronto Blue Jays. The Phillies and Blue Jays extensively negotiated a Halladay trade, but the Phillies turned Wednesday to the Indians, and to a four-prospect package that enabled them to get Lee while keeping rookie pitcher J.A. Happ and top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek.

The Dodgers and Angels have a little more leverage against the Blue Jays today, with the Phillies out of the Halladay derby. Yet the Blue Jays also have a little more leverage against the Dodgers and Angels, with Lee off the market.

The Dodgers and Angels both say the Blue Jays want too much for Halladay. The Phillies came to the same conclusion.

Perhaps there is no deal to be made, and the Blue Jays keep Halladay into next season, as Toronto General Manager J.P. Ricciardi predicted Wednesday to the New York Post. The price should be painful for the best pitcher in the league.

The Blue Jays have told the Dodgers they can get Halladay without trading anyone off their major league roster, for five or six prospects. The Dodgers said no, arguing that would gut their minor league system. They already had thinned the system considerably last summer, trading six prospects to get Manny Ramirez, Casey Blake and Greg Maddux.

The Blue Jays also said they would take fewer players if Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley were one of them. The Dodgers said no to that too.

No to Kershaw? Of course.

No to Billingsley? There has been discussion within the organization about whether to reconsider that stance, although the Dodgers are not expected to do so.

Money should not be at issue. The Dodgers got $11.1 million from the company that insured Jason Schmidt’s contract and saved $7.7 million from the 50-game suspension of Ramirez. That just about covers Halladay’s contract until it runs out, after next season.

That would give the Dodgers two chances to win the World Series with Halladay.

If Halladay starts Game 1 of a postseason series and Kershaw starts Game 2, the Dodgers would be just fine with Randy Wolf and Hiroki Kuroda in the next two games.

Billingsley is a premium young pitcher, but it is not as if the Dodgers can keep him for the next six years at minimum wage. Halladay will be eligible for free agency after the 2010 season, Billingsley after 2012, and in the three years before then Billingsley could earn upward of $20 million in salary arbitration.

Halladay guarantees the Dodgers nothing. No one would argue otherwise. This is about the Dodgers giving themselves the best possible opportunity to win the World Series this year and next, to get two chances before Halladay and Ramirez could leave, to enhance our city’s hope of hearing Vin Scully call the Fall Classic just one more time.




Moving day

Cincinnati -- Acquired outfielder Wladimir Balentien from Seattle for pitcher Robert Manuel.

N.Y. Yankees -- Acquired pitcher Jason Hirsh from Colorado for a player to be named.

Pittsburgh -- Traded shortstop Jack Wilson and pitcher Ian Snell to Seattle for shortstop Ronny Cedeno, catcher Jeff Clement and pitchers Nathan Adcock, Brett Lorin and Aaron Pribanic.

Philadelphia -- Acquired pitcher Cliff Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco from Cleveland for pitcher Carlos Carrasco, infielder Jason Donald, catcher Lou Marson and pitcher Jason Knapp.

San Francisco -- Acquired infielder Freddy Sanchez from Pittsburgh for pitcher Tim Alderson.

-- Associated Press