For a club determined to see some October ball north of the border, the Toronto Blue Jays have found themselves at the heart of the trade deadline rumor mill as they watch their lead in the American League East erode. The Jays are 2.5 games ahead of the Yankees, who could sweep their current series this evening if Toronto’s losing streak, now at 15 at Yankee Stadium, is any hint.
Although their power-hitting lineup has cooled down significantly in the past weeks — and GM Alex Anthopoulos has acknowledged he would consider an upgrade at any position (a.k.a. second base), which has Ben Zobrist’s name on everyone’s mind — acquiring a solid arm to upgrade the starting pitching needs to be the club’s No. 1 priority come the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
The current rotation has the potential to keep it together long enough to get to at least a wild-card appearance, especially once the hitters find their end-of-May groove again. But if the Blue Jays extend into October, there is a slim chance their current starting staff will hold its own in the postseason.
R.A. Dickey has watched the bullpen bail him out far too many times again this season, Mark Buehrle has encountered recent struggles, seeing his third straight loss last night, and 23-year-old Drew Hutchison can’t figure out a way to get it together when pitching on home turf. Brandon Morrow is expected to return from the DL sometime after the All-Star break, but to be honest, his return would be far from an in-house upgrade. Add rookie Marcus Stroman’s lack of experience and J.A. Happ’s inability to find long-term consistency, and all signs indicate Anthopoulos will be ready to make a key move next month.
During the offseason, rumors swirled about Chicago’s Jeff Samardzija. As of today, those rumors continue, along with ones surrounding Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price (both of who will be free agents after 2015). In the end, how much would the acquisition cost affect the Jays long-term? Last November, it was reported that Cubs GM Theo Epstein was asking for a package that included Hutchison and either Stroman or Aaron Sanchez. Clearly a high-stakes deal that Anthopoulos thankfully dismissed.
If the Blue Jays want to get back in the Samardzija talks, expect the Cubs to ask for a similar offer. Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun reported the Cubs would most likely ask for four players in return for their right-hander, which would probably include Sanchez and Hutchison, or Stroman, along with up-and-coming players such as Deck McGuire, Liam Hendriks, Sean Nolin or Dalton Pompey. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to assume the Rays would barter along the same lines to give up Price. The Rays need a solid haul of prospects and a major-league ready arm, and what better way to accomplish that than dealing their three-time All-Star and former Cy Young winner, who has struggled this season while tugging hard at the organization’s very tight purse strings.
Remembering the blockbuster deal the Blue Jays made with the Marlins and Mets, though, is it really wise to clear out the future of the franchise for a second time in two years to add one veteran arm if the club makes it to the postseason? It’s a double-edged sword when you put Samardzija and Price into play. If the Blue Jays make it through the summer without them and the team fails in October, Anthopoulos will face a barrage of criticism and questions. But, if the club secures one of these names at a high cost, will it be worth it — win or lose — if the club is left with holes throughout the organization to acquire a star who could leave town via free agency after 2015? This has brought up the notion of a “rental” pitcher as the safer and more popular bet — a win-now move, but at a lower risk. It’s not the most terrible idea Anthopoulos has had over the years.
With this in mind, there is a good chance the Cubs would still make a deal with the Blue Jays for Jason Hammel. He would come at a cheaper price and enter a much less competitive marker. The 31-year-old is having one of the best seasons of his career and would come to the Jays with a one-year contract for a more reasonable trade of either Nolin or Hendriks.
James Shields of the Kansas City Royals could be another option. He again would carry a lower price tag as a free agent at the end of the season, and the Blue Jays would avoid gutting their farm system. There could be one catch with the right-hander: the Royals’ road to October. If, by the trade deadline, Kansas City is contending, they will not want to see him sporting a different blue and white jersey. The Royals needed an ace, and when Shields came over from Tampa, that’s just what they got. The Royals will have to be sliding for the Jays to have a shot a Shields.