The first-place Blue Jays keep getting connected to ace Cubs righthander Jeff Samardzija (it's been going on for years now, it seems), but the sides have yet to make new proposals, and while the Jays will talk about Samardzija, sources suggest they are ultimately much more likely to trade for Samardzija's teammate Jason Hammel or another comparable rental starter.
A rental starter and a second baseman are, in fact, seen as two top items on the first-place Blue Jays' wish list, and while they've also been in contact with the Cubs about Samardzija, the Jays plan to be quite cautious when it comes to their top prospects after trading away some good ones in recent years, including pitcher Noah Syndergaard and catcher Travis d'Arnaud in the R.A. Dickey deal and several others in the Marlins blockbuster.
Awhile back, the Cubs requested top pitcher Drew Hutchison plus either Aaron Sanchez or marcus Stroman in Samardzija talks, resulting in an easy turn down by Toronto. The latest speculation is that the Cubs would part with Samardzija for Sanchez plus lefty Daniel Norris and outfielder Dalton Pompey, but industry sources say that deal has yet to be prosposed, and furthermore, there's "zero chance" the Blue Jays would agree to that.
While the Jays obviously like Samardzija, realistically, they understand they won't be able to extend him, meaning he'd cost serious prospects for a year and a half of performance. A big reason they gave up so much for Dickey is that he was coming off a Cy Young season and willing to sign a multi-year deal for about $10 million per year, which he did to complete the trade; as a comparison Samardzija has already turned down $85-million-plus for five years from his hometown Cubs (Foxsports.com first reported the $85-million-plus figure).
The Jays may not have tons of cash to spend, as it's well known they needed to get promises from players to defer money when they made free agent Ervin Santana a $14-million, one-year offer in spring. They have been scouting the Phillies, a spring-training neighbor and occasional trade partner (remember Roy Halladay), but it would seem that Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee might be far out of their price range on the chance one or the other becomes available. For now, there's no word the Phillies are even sellers in a tight NL East.
With an interest in keeping its better prospects, Toronto is much more likely to look closely at a rental market that has yet to develop. Hammel, having a big year in Chicago, is almost a sure bet to be dealt, but the availability of severeal other veterans, such as Justin Masterson, Jorge De La Rosa, Francisco Liriano and Jake Peavy will depend on how the races break. James Shields would have been great interest to the Jays, as reported here, had the Royals remained out of the race, but they are extremely likely to hold onto Shields following the 10-game winning streak that put them in the thick of the AL Central derby.
As for the Jays, while they are a surprise leader in the AL East, there are some other issues they'd like to address. Although they seem fairly comfortable Juan Francisco can man third base while Brett Lawrie recovers from a broken right index finger that just put him on the disabled list, they will take another look at second base.
The Jays made a spirited play for then-Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler before a no-trade clause crushed that potential deal, as Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca originally reported in winter, and will again scan the market for a second baseman. For now Munenori Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson are manning that spot, which has produced a .666 OPS for the Jays thus far.
They'd likely have interest in Phillies star Chase Utley, but Utley has a full no-trade clause and recently told Todd Zolecki that he doesn't have any intention at present to waive it. as is his right.