OAKLAND -- The Blue Jays' quest to upgrade their starting rotation became a little bit tougher after Oakland pulled off a blockbuster trade for Cubs right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on Friday night.
Toronto had been linked to both pitchers for the past several weeks. In the case of Samardzija, the Blue Jays' interest dates back to the offseason when the two clubs engaged in rather lengthy trade negotiations.
The Blue Jays continued to monitor Samardzija throughout the regular season and had scouts at most -- if not all -- of his starts this year. Instead of Toronto, though, it was the A's who pulled off the big deal when they agreed to part with a package of prospects, including Addison Russell.
"It'll be good to see him," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons sarcastically said of Samardzjia, who will pitch vs Toronto on Sunday. "[Billy] Beane's been known to make some moves."
The market for starters at the upcoming Non-Waiver Trade Deadline was never expected to be particularly strong but it has become a lot weaker now that two pitchers are off the market. The quality of available talent will largely depend on what Tampa Bay decides to do with David Price while Philadelphia could make things interesting by putting Cole Hamels, A.J. Burnett and Cliff Lee on the block.
None of those pitchers would come cheap but that might be OK for a Blue Jays organization that appears to be shifting its focus toward position players. The emergence of young pitchers like Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman to go along with Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey means the club isn't quite as desperate for starters as it once was.
There's an obvious need for either a second or third baseman as the club searches for ways to score more runs. Toronto had the top-ranked offense in baseball during May but that production slid to 17th the following month.
Toronto has particularly struggled vs left-handed pitching with an AL-worst .234 this season. Another right-handed bat would be useful and the position doesn't really matter because injured infielder Brett Lawrie can play either second or third when he returns from the 15-day disabled list.
"Our big thing right now is scoring runs," Gibbons said. "When we were going really good, we were swinging it. The hole with Brett being gone, trying to shore up the infield a little bit, get some production out of that, is more glaring than the rotation right now. But what might happen, I have no idea."