TORONTO - One way or another Roy Halladay is in his final days, if not hours, with the Toronto Blue Jays and the end can't come soon enough for a franchise with its sights set firmly on the future.
His looming trade - an epic blockbuster tentatively agreed to that would send the ace right-hander to Philadelphia, fellow Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee from the Phillies to Seattle, and young talent from both teams to Toronto - is a necessary step in firmly closing the competitive window built by former GM J.P. Ricciardi, and turning the page on the era of a franchise icon.
This has been coming for a long time, and some believe it should have happened a year ago.
Halladay has been in a wait-and-see mode with the Blue Jays since last fall, when the departure of A.J. Burnett combined with injuries to other starters to destroy the team's chances of competing in 2009. With Halladay's US$40-million, three-year contract set to expire after the 2010 campaign and a burning desire to pitch in the post-season, a divorce has been imminent since.
Both the Blue Jays brass and the team's fans hoped the split could be avoided, that once Ricciardi failed to trade away Halladay last summer after auctioning him publicly all of July, the pitcher might buy into new GM Alex Anthopoulos's plans to rebuild the club.
That was not to be and when Anthopoulos said in October that Halladay and the team had different timelines for winning, it became clear a deal needed to happen before the relationship went completely sour. The Blue Jays can't offer Halladay the one thing he wants most - a legitimate chance to win a World Series.
The Phillies, on the other hand, can, which is why they've long been one of his preferred destinations. Throw in that their spring base in Clearwater, Fla., is a stone's throw from his home in Oldsmar and the match is perfect.
The match in trade talks between the Blue Jays and Phillies wasn't nearly as easy, as their failed discussions from the summer would indicate. When Ricciardi's price was too high, the Phillies went to Cleveland and acquired Lee instead, but unsure of whether they can retain the lefty or not (he's a free agent after 2010, too), they brought Seattle into the mix and found a match.
Exactly who the Blue Jays end up with is unclear, and the team was in deep lockdown mode on the matter Monday night, led by Anthopoulos, who declined comment.
Several news outlets - SI.com first reported the agreement - presented a host of different names and multiple sources interviewed by The Canadian Press also came up with a variety of mixes.
The players most commonly mentioned are right-handers Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que., and Brandon Morrow plus outfielder Mike Saunders of Victoria from the Mariners, and lefty J.A. Happ and one of minor-league outfielders Dominic Brown or Michael Taylor from the Phillies.
Others floated include Mariners minor-league outfielder Tyson Gillies of Langley, B.C., Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton and Phillies catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud. More names will likely filter in and out as the three teams work out the trade's final details.
But clearly Anthopoulos, in what will be his first player move of major consequence, will have given the team a broad boost of the young, controllable players it needs for its emerging core. Whoever comes back once a trade is finalized will join second baseman Aaron Hill, outfielders Adam Lind and Travis Snider plus starters Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero as the foundation for the future.
For long-suffering Blue Jays fans that will be a cold comfort.
A six-time all-star and 2003 AL Cy Young Award winner, Halladay was one of the best reasons to watch the Blue Jays over the past decade, during which he's arguably been the game's best pitcher.
Halladay is peerless when it comes to working quickly on the mound and attacking the strike zone, leaving opposing hitters shaking their heads, if not their hands, with his vicious cutter. He's also a workhorse that has thrown 220 or more innings in six of the past eight seasons.
A strong case can be made for Halladay as the best pitcher in franchise history, a loyal player who would have finished out his career in Toronto had a suitable supporting cast been assembled around him.
Instead, Halladay was in Philadelphia on Monday to take a physical required to complete the deal, according to The Associated Press. The AP also said the commissioner's office had granted the Phillies and Blue Jays a 72-hour window on Sunday to complete the trade, likely to give Philadelphia a chance to negotiate a contract extension with Halladay.
ESPN.com reported that the sides were working on a three-year extension worth around $60 million.
One bit of solace is that Halladay appears headed to the National League, rather than one of the American League East beasts. Both the World Series champion New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, who reached preliminary agreement on a five-year contract with free agent right-hander John Lackey on Monday, had shown some interest in acquiring Halladay.
Aumont, a 20-year-old taken 11th overall in the 2007 draft, is an imposing six-foot-seven, 220-pound right-hander who throws in the high 90s with a breaking ball that can be dominant. He recorded 16 saves in 44 relief appearances between single-A and double-A, and some in the Mariners organization feel he could be ready to pitch in the majors next year.
Saunders, an athletic 23-year-old, batted .221 in 46 games for Seattle last season but has great power and speed at the plate with a solid glove in the field.
Happ, a 27-year-old lefty, went 12-4 with a 2.93 earned-run average in 35 games, including 23 starts, for the Phillies in a stellar rookie year.
Brown, 21, batted a combined .299 with 14 homers and 64 RBIs in 106 games at three minor-league levels.
Blanton, 29, was 12-8 with a 4.05 ERA in 31 starts for the Phillies and it wasn't clear if the Blue Jays would keep him, flip him to the Mariners or send him elsewhere.