The MLB trade deadline is still over seven weeks away, but we're getting to the point where teams—at least the realistic ones—know if they're going to contend for postseason play or not.
That means trade blocks are starting to open up.
We're nearly halfway through June. Teams have played over 60 games, and the numbers in the "games back" column are beginning to trend upward. It's still too early to get a read on several teams, but picking out potential buyers and sellers is starting to become a little easier.
With that, trade speculation and rumors are steadily increasing. Let's take a look at some of the most intriguing recent gossip from around the league.
Toronto Blue Jays Prefer James Shields to Jeff Samardzija
The Jays continue to win ballgames and increase the distance between themselves and the rest of the AL East—in large part due to their hitting. Edwin Encarnacion hits a home run about once every 14 times to the plate, Jose Bautista is raking and Toronto is second in the majors in OPS.
Eventually, they'll need some more consistency in the rotation behind Mark Buehrle, though.
A name that has seemingly popped up on every team's summer wish list is Jeff Samardzija of the struggling Chicago Cubs, but according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Alex Anthopoulos and his staff prefer James Shields.
The reason? He's cheaper, and Toronto isn't interested in gutting the farm system.
"We can't keep trading our prospects," a member of the Jays organization told Heyman.
They would have to do that to acquire the electric Samardzija, who doesn't hit free agency until after the 2015 season, so a rental like Shields would seemingly make more sense.
That said, the Kansas City Royals ace won't come cheap. Remarkably consistent over the past four seasons, Shields currently sports a 3.44 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. Moreover, the Royals, just 3.5 games back in the Central and 3.0 back in the wild card, are going to have to be enticed into selling their No. 1.
While Shields would be crucial for a stretch run, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal argued against the idea of a short-term solution for the Blue Jays:
Heyman reports that players such as Justin Masterson (Cleveland Indians, second in AL Central), Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh Pirates, third in NL Central) and Jason Hammel (Chicago Cubs, last in NL Central) are also options for Toronto if they become available.
Baltimore Orioles Leaders for Jeff Samardzija
Staying in the wacky AL East, the Orioles currently trail Toronto by 5.5 games, while they are behind Seattle by 1.5 for the second wild-card spot. Still in contention but sporting the sixth-worst ERA in baseball, they will undoubtedly be in the market for some arms.
Unsurprisingly, then, the O's are currently the team showing the most interest in Samardzija, per CBS Chicago's Bruce Levine.
Samardzija has been fantastic this season. Some old-timers might try to point to his 2-5 record as criticism, but go ahead and ask Felix Hernandez how indicative wins are of an individual performance. Even after a brutal start in Milwaukee earlier this month, Samardzjia has a 2.54 ERA (seventh in the NL), 1.13 WHIP (12th), 75 strikeouts (12th) and a 2.1 WAR (sixth, per Baseball Reference).
For Baltimore, though, acquiring him will likely take one of its prime pitching prospects in Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman, along with another piece or two. Although Bundy is recovering from Tommy John surgery, both are top-20 prospects and look like future top-of-the-rotation studs.
It would be a steep price to pay, but the Cubs will have the kind of market that lets them shoot for the moon. Heyman recently called Samardzija the best trade chip, and there will be a bevy of teams fighting for his services this summer.
That gives Chicago some necessary leverage.
Chase Utley Headed West?
Talking on Philly Sports Talk, via CSN Philly's Corey Seidman, Peter Gammons suggested that Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley could be on his way to the NL West:
A general manager said to me that he thought the National League would be decided by whether the Dodgers or the Giants got Chase Utley. There comes a point where you have to think about doing really unpleasant things to completely retool.
In terms of Utley, again, to me, he is the model player, but a team like the Giants, every scout I've talked to tells me they might have the best pitching in Double A of any team in baseball. If you get three pitchers for Chase Utley out of that Giants organization, you have a chance to be -- two years from now -- restore that pitching to where it should be.
Who will Chase Utley be playing for after the trade deadline?
Utley, who has spent 12 seasons with the Phillies, is off to a scorching start this season, hitting .314/.371/.498 with a league-leading 24 doubles. Trading him seems like blasphemy, but the Phils are 25-36 and need to reload to keep up with the Miami Marlins, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, who boast three of the four youngest pitching staffs in the NL.
Philly, meanwhile, has the second-oldest.
On the flip side, it makes sense for the Giants, who have gotten an atrocious .184/.265/.298 slash line from their second basemen this season. The Dodgers don't have as big of a need, with Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez up the middle and Adrian Gonzalez at first.