The rebuilding is on for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Ace right-hander Roy Halladay officially got his wish as a blockbuster trade sending him and US$6 million to the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies was finally completed Wednesday afternoon.
In return, the Blue Jays get prospects Kyle Drabek, a right-hander, Travis d’Arnaud, a catcher, and Michael Taylor, an outfielder they flipped to the Oakland Athletics for minor-league infielder Brett Wallace.
The Phillies also sent left-hander Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners for three prospects, right-hander Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que., outfielder Tyson Gillies of Langley, B.C., and pitcher J.C. Ramirez.
The gut-wrenching swap is the first major player move made by new general manager Alex Anthopoulos, and the blockbuster definitively sets the team in a new direction.
Anthopoulos made it clear in early November that he sees the Blue Jays as a team in a “building” mode with the priority being the acquisition of young controllable assets.
The return for one of the franchise’s greatest and most significant players certainly helps on that front, as the incoming trio join an emerging core that is fronted by second baseman Aaron Hill, outfielders Adam Lind and Travis Snider, righty Shaun Marcum, and left-hander Ricky Romero.
The deal also represents a symbolic shutting of the competitive window former GM J.P. Ricciardi had set through the 2010 season.
Those plans began to fall apart last fall when A.J. Burnett opted out of his contract and signed with the New York Yankees. Combined with injuries to fellow starters Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and soon after the season started Jesse Litsch, the club’s rotation was left decimated and the Blue Jays struggled to a 75-87 finish.
Ricciardi, who put Halladay through a very public and ultimately unsuccessful auction in the summer, was fired on the final weekend of the season and Anthopoulos took over.
Halladay maintained his stance that he wanted to wait and see where the Blue Jays were headed before signing an extension beyond the 2010 season, and with him and the team having different timelines for building a winner, Anthopoulos pulled the trigger.
One source indicated the only way to convince Halladay to stay longer term was to sign three or four significant free agents this off-season, and it’s not clear that would have got the Blue Jays over the hump.
Anthopoulos believes on building a core from within and augmenting through free agency, and the current group has some good pieces, but not enough of them.
This round of Halladay trade talks played out very differently from the month of frenzied speculation in the summer, when Ricciardi attempted to create internal and external pressures on teams to overpay for the 32-year-old right-hander.
That approach failed and he was criticized in some circles for driving too hard a bargain, and irked some in the organization by making everything so public.
Anthopoulos, in contrast, kept everything as quiet as possible.
Other veteran players who could follow Halladay out the door are first baseman Lyle Overbay, closer Scott Downs, lefty Brian Tallet and set-up man Jason Frasor, but really, anyone not part of the vision for a competitor in 2011 or 2012 can now be had.
Outfielder Alex Rios (waivers), third baseman Scott Rolen (traded) and closer B.J. Ryan (released) are the other big names to have parted ways with the club over the past year.
Shortstop Marco Scutaro and catcher Rod Barajas have both departed as free agents, as the Blue Jays seemed to prefer getting the compensatory draft picks rather than re-signing the players.
That will be of cold-comfort to long-suffering Blue Jays fans, who adored Halladay like few other players and saw him as the key to a first post-season trip since 1993.
He was a low-maintenance superstar, dependable and determined, who embraced the city and wanted nothing more than to help restore the franchise to its past glory. But despite his best efforts, Ricciardi could never build enough of a supporting cast around him, and with Halladay’s baseball clock ticking, he decided to accept the trade to pursue his sole remaining goal of winning a World Series elsewhere.
The deal also ensures the Blue Jays a better return on the pitcher than if he had walked away as a free agent after the 2010 season, when his current contract expires. Had he left then, the Jays would only have received two draft picks in compensation.
Ricciardi first began exploring Halladay trade talks in the summer after the pitcher said he wouldn’t sign an extension before he became a free agent.
He wants to win now.
Halladay agreed to his two previous contract extensions – both below market value to help Ricciardi build a winner – after receiving assurances the Blue Jays would make every effort to compete in the AL East.
The team is going in a new direction now and the right thing to do under the circumstances was to make the deal, as difficult as it will to be digest for the team’s dwindling fan-base.