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Blue Jays trade rumors: Toronto is scouting Jason Hammel, Jeff Samardzija

The only American team north of the border is showing strong interest in a pair of Chicago Cubs pitchers.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos
Tom Szczerbowski

At one point, Toronto was outpacing the AL East, as well as the rest of the American League, driven mostly by its offensive prowess. Now that the Blue Jays have cooled off and Baltimore sits just one lonely game behind them in the division race, Toronto seems to be more strongly considering the necessity of upgrading its current roster to continue a playoff push.

According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, the Blue Jays have sent more than their fair share of scouts to the Windy City recently:

The Blue Jays, who are in search of a starting pitcher, an infielder and a reliever, have sent at least 10 scouts to watch the Cubs since September and have followed Jason Hammel just as closely as ace Jeff Samardzija, according to several sources.

Both would be a reasonable upgrade for Toronto, who currently sit 11th in the AL in starting pitcher WAR, only a shade better than the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox.

They may have some internal relief, as Marcus Stroman continues to show well as a starting pitcher through six starts, but outside of Mark Buehrle,whose success depends as much on illusion and misdirection as actual skill, the next best performance on the team has come from Drew Hutchison, whose 3.81 ERA thru seventeen starts puts him well north of teammates R.A. Dickey (4.24 ERA), J.A. Happ (4.39), and Dustin McGowan (5.08), who have collectively made thirty-seven of the team's fifty-two other starts.

Brandon Morrow is eying a return in August, but his production and health are both highly suspect at this point. So, the team's interest in Samardzija and Hammel is warranted, but what remains to be seen is whether or not they actually have the pieces to put together a package that would entice Chicago. Toronto had just two player on Baseball America's pre-season Top 100; one of whom (Stroman) is just as vital to their continued success as Samardzija or Hammel.  The other is Aaron Sanchez, whose strikeout rate has continued a steady decline as he has traversed each level of the minor league system, and whose command (5.53 BB/9 across AA and AAA this season) leaves much to be desired.

The Blue Jays are in a quandary; they need to get better, but they might have to sacrifice from an area of strength to improve an area of need, hoping in the meantime that the aggregate isn't mitigated by the transfer. The other option is to try and improve with a more modest upgrade, but if there's one thing that aren't short on, it is pitchers that can put up league-average marks.