In 2009, there was no bigger get on the Toronto Blue Jays roster come the trade deadline than Roy Halladay.
I can’t remember there ever being a trade deadline when pitching wasn’t a hot commodity, and, let’s face it: When Halladay was in his prime, no one was hotter. Every team in the hunt could have used him, and for as quiet as Harry Leroy was, everyone knew he wanted to be on a winning club.
Halladay was heading into free agency at the end of the year, and the Jays, despite a hot start, had once again sunk to the basement. Moving Halladay would be the organization’s best shot at recouping some value for 2010.
It made sense that he’d be gone soon, so much so that each time he took the mound leading up to the trade deadline, his start was advertised as “Don’t miss what could be Halladay’s last start.” We, his teammates, noticed that scaring the fans about the fact that they might miss his last start was likely the most profitable promotion the team had run all year.
Then, as predicted, Roy was traded. We all found out the same way, when Roy took to his Twitter account to let the world know he’d just become a member of the Chicago White Sox, was happy to be a part of the new club and wished all the best to his former organization for its years of support.
It made sense, maybe too much sense. The White Sox were in the hunt that year and looking for a pitcher. They had prospects the Jays liked. It was a weaker division with bigger parks. Halladay would be a star in Chicago.
The only question any of us had was how long it would take until the ultra-intense laser beam of focus that was Halladay slaughtered the madness that was Ozzie Guillen with his bare hands. But if a chance to win a World Series was on the line, we supposed Halladay would find a way to cope.
There was only one problem: It was all fake.
Twitter had just hit the scene. It was so new that the popular consensus around the sports-consuming world was that athletes should never use it. Some teams went so far as to ban their athletes from using it, because letting an athlete speak without a filter was dangerous to a franchise’s integrity.
Furthermore, Roy hated talking to the media. He’d keep them waiting by his locker for hours after his start while he finished his post-outing routines. He hated the distractions that came from loose words. He knew I was writing inside the locker room, and it’s a wonder he didn’t slaughter me with his bare hands for doing it.
Why on earth would he announce something as monumental as his trade on Twitter, of all places?
As it turned out, some random fan had faked Roy’s name and announced a trade everyone was ready to believe had happened, including some of the guys on the club.
It was so believable that the team’s MLB security representative, Ron Sandelli, sat us down to address the issue. He declared the Internet a dangerous place for athletes and said that if he and his security posse could find the guy who had faked Roy’s trade, they were going to bring him to justice.
“Yeah, right,” I thought. “Because no one has ever pretended to be someone else on the Internet before.”
But in that gap between rumor and fact, a peculiar thing happened. The fans weren’t the only ones wondering if Roy would go. The players were starting to play armchair general manager.
Players do this fairly often, in case you’re wondering. Trying to guess what an organization is going to do is in their best interest. Contrary to the popular belief that players care about their teams more than their individual gains, they do not. They care about team goals as they pertain to their own, and nothing more.
Roy represented the biggest domino in the operation. If he went, then the team wouldn’t be nearly as competitive. Some of the older vets who were worried about winning a championship—an accomplishment they wanted for their own legacies under the guise of being part of a quality team—started speculating aloud about getting away from Toronto as well.
The team was floundering, after all, and without Roy, it would just get worse. There was no one on the staff even remotely as good as he was, and certainly nothing was coming up from within the organization. If he went, it would herald the return to the Dark Ages, at least for the next season or two.
The relievers—specifically, those rolling up good seasons—talked about getting away from the Jays like they were breaking out of a prison camp. They didn’t mind Toronto before Halladay was allegedly traded, but now they hated it—the hassles at the border, the crappy infrastructure, the difficulty of getting around and the fact that, for such a big city, everything seemed to shut down at 9 p.m.
They’d always hated the AstroTurf and how the stadium felt like a gloomy airplane hangar. The spring training complex sucked, and why was the Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas? Besides, Scott Rolen wanted to head back toward his hometown, and B.J. Ryan had been released.
Mind you, they loved the place, body and soul, before they signed their contracts. But as they say, the AstroTurf is always greener on the other side. Guys were trading themselves away, thinking of teams that need relievers of their ilk. First, it was teams within the realm of reason. Then, it was teams within the realm of fantasy.
Jason Frasor missed his hometown in Chicago, so he’d probably want to go back there. Another guy had always liked Kansas City, and who could blame him? It was one of the most gorgeous parks in the game, and it had an ERA-saving fence line. I was the only one who scoffed at going to the Padres to play in lovely, beachside, blessed-with-perfect-weather San Diego—mostly because I had just come from there and posted a 9.72 ERA.
Then, the trade was proved a hoax, and everything took on a bitter taste. All the dream-hatching went up in smoke. I didn’t mind, though; I was in The Show and sporting an ERA in the ones at the time. I loved Canada because I could actually pitch there! I just wanted to keep what I had going.
It doesn’t sound as selfish, but it was—just in the opposite way.
Baseball is a team sport, but it’s made up of individuals who sign individual contracts and work toward individual goals. Winning together is great, but it’s not guaranteed. That’s why, come the trade deadline, guys don’t talk about what’s going to happen to the team if a certain player leaves as much as they talk about what’s going to happen to them if a certain player leaves.
Halladay wasn’t traded until December 2009, but if you ask most of the players, he should have been dealt earlier. They’ll tell you the Blue Jays were just going to lose him to free agency anyway after 2010 and that it would have been a great time for them to pick up an even more elite prospect haul by striking in July of 2009. But the truth is that if Halladay would have moved, some of those players would have been that much closer to the dream scenarios in their heads.
This MLB trade deadline, there will be a lot of chatter from talking heads around the sport about the big talents who are optimal trades. But there will also be a lot of talk about the matter from the heads inside the locker room, who plot and scheme just as much as every other part of the business.