Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Tuesday afternoon that the club was unlikely to make any deals before the Winter Meetings conclude Thursday, but a source confirmed before midnight ET that the Phils had signed free-agent outfielder Ross Gload to a two-year contract.
But before that happened, Amaro said he had laid groundwork on more than one move that might happen in the future.
Halladay could be one of them.
Don't bet the house that it happens. Many things would have to break right first. But in conversations with front-office executives and scouts this week, the feeling is that the Phillies are well positioned to land the former American League Cy Young Award winner.
"They have the pieces," one AL executive said. "I would say the Phillies and Red Sox have the talent to make it happen more than the other teams out there."
"They've got the prospects," a National League scout said. "They didn't give up anything for [Cliff] Lee."
The Phillies shipped right-handers Carlos Carrasco and Jason Knapp, catcher Lou Marson and shortstop Jason Donald to the Indians on July 29 for Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco. Baseball America considered Carrasco, Knapp, Marson and Donald among the organization's top 10 prospects. But they also were not Philadelphia's best prospects.
That designation belongs to right-hander Kyle Drabek and outfielders Domonic Brown and Michael Taylor, and the Phils still have them.
The Blue Jays originally asked for Drabek, Brown, left-hander J.A. Happ and outfielder Anthony Gose for Halladay. The Phillies balked. And they still would balk, if the Jays ask for a similar package for Halladay, who will make $15.75 million in 2010 and can become a free agent after the season. It simply would be too steep a price for a player who might not be back in '11.
"It could come down to the Phillies determining if they can significantly deplete their system for a player they may be unable to retain," a NL executive said.
But it is more than just prospects. It also is money.
"Financially," the AL executive said. "That might be the biggest hit."
The Phillies have budgeted around $140 million for their 2010 payroll, and they already are pushing that without Halladay's salary. Ownership could make an exception for a special talent like Halladay, but the club also might need to move some salary to make it fit.
Talk at the Winter Meetings that Philadelphia has made Joe Blanton available might not be a coincidence. Blanton made $5.75 million in 2009, and is due a raise. Amaro declined comment when asked about reports that Blanton is being shopped, but one source said Tuesday that to get Halladay, the Phillies "would have to move Blanton. And he is on the market, by the way."
But it is more than just the '10 payroll that must concern the Phillies. They must worry about future payrolls, too. If the Phils trade too many top prospects for Halladay, they will have fewer options in their system to replace current talent. For example, Jayson Werth is a free agent after 2010. Raul Ibanez, Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson will be free agents after '11. Jimmy Rollins also will become a free agent after '11, assuming the Phillies pick up his '11 club option.
"At some point ... retaining all of their quality players will be difficult," the NL executive said. "When you reach that point, there has to be depth in the system to cover needs. It's tough to continuously deal your top prospects, extend payroll and have the ability to recover when the bill comes due."
Brewers assistant general manager Gord Ash said recently that he considered the Phillies and Yankees favorites to land Halladay, and he offered reasons why.
"They are going to be looking for Double-A and Triple-A help," he said about the Blue Jays.
The Phillies have that.
They also hold Spring Training in Clearwater, Fla., which is a short drive from Halladay's offseason home.
"He has control of his destiny, and we're not a part of his criteria," said Ash, whose team holds Spring Training in Arizona. "For one, we're not a Florida team. I also don't think he's looking for a chance to win, he's looking for a guaranteed win."
The Phillies became the first NL team to play in back-to-back World Series since the 1995-96 Braves. They are trying to become the first NL team to play in three consecutive Fall Classics since the 1942-44 Cardinals.
A rotation that included Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels certainly would put them in good position to get there.
Will it happen? It is too early to say, but many of the baseball execs in Indianapolis think the Phillies can make it happen.