- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

With the trading deadline drawing near, the Toronto Blue Jays have displayed Roy Halladay prominently in the department-store window - right next to the women’s lingerie. Needless to say, more than a few teams are salivating at the prospect. (I’m talking about Halladay, by the way, not the frilly lace underwear.)

The Blue Jays’ ace could tip the balance of any number of division races - starting with his own division, the American League East, where the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are in the midst of a season-long free-for-all. It’s like this every year at the deadline, it seems. An impact player or two become available because (a.) their contracts are expiring and/or (b.) their team’s playoff hopes are doing the same, and the week leading up to July 31 turns into a day-after-Christmas sale at Wal-Mart, with GMs slamming shopping carts into one another’s shins and shamelessly trying to cut in line.

A year ago, it was the Brewers who won the CC Sabathia sweepstakes and, as a result, made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. But now CC is gone, signed by Steinbrenner Inc. as a free agent, and Milwaukee is poorer by four prospects. None of them have helped the Indians much yet, but it’s hard not to notice that the Brew Crew has gone back to being the Pabst Blue Ribbon of the NL Central (read: 48-46 going into Wednesday night’s game).

That’s the flip side of these deadline auctions, the Beverly Hillbillies side of them. Every now and then, one of baseball’s have-nots will get to live in a big mansion with a ce-ment pond for a couple of months - and then, unlike the TV series, they’ll return to the boonies. This season, maybe it will be the Rangers who take the plunge, who “load up the truck and move to Beverly” (as the song sorta goes). At least they’d have Halladay’s services for another year before his deal runs out. Sabathia was basically a two-month rental for the Brewers.

Still, while a Halladay trade would generate much excitement, it would also serve as yet another reminder that baseball is broken. When the Blue Jays can’t hang on to Roy - just as the Indians couldn’t keep Sabathia or the Twins had to let Johan Santana go - it makes the major leagues look like a crooked card game, one in which the house (e.g. the Yankees, Red Sox and other big spenders) always wins.

Look at the Pirates - if you can bear to. At last year’s deadline they sold Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the highest bidders… the Red Sox and Yankees, naturally. On Wednesday, they sent Adam LaRoche to the Sox for a pair of low-level minor leaguers. (This after peddling Nate McLouth to the Braves in June.) Ask yourself: If Roberto Clemente were breaking in with the Pirates today, how long would it be before he was dealt for a package of Cheaper Alternatives?

Or perhaps the question should be: How long would it take him to be eligible for arbitration? (Answer: three years.)

If, in the coming days, any of TV’s talking heads says, “A pitcher like Roy Halladay isn’t available very often,” feel free to laugh. As we’ve seen, pitchers like Halladay are available all too often. Never mind Sabathia and Santana, what about Josh Beckett? Were the Marlins not so habitually strapped for cash, Beckett would probably still be chucking aspirins for them and not Boston. And let’s not forget, before the Sox got Josh (along with Mike Lowell) from the Florida flea market, they got Pedro Martinez from the “all-items-must-go” Expos.

Yes, Halladay - if the Blue Jays opt to move him now - will be “black gold, Texas tea” for some contender. He has a career winning percentage of .673 (142-69) - pitching for a team that has never made the playoffs in his 12 seasons - and he actually throws a complete game once in a while. In fact, he’s thrown a bundle of them by contemporary standards, 44 to be exact. That’s almost as many as Tom Glavine (56) threw in racking up 305 victories.

However the Halladay sell-a-thon turns out, his new team will undoubtedly thank the Blue Jays for the “heapin’ helpin’ of their hospitality.” Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Roy’s next employers told the Jays, “Y’all come back now, y’hear?”

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