Top 5 Pitchers the Toronto Blue Jays Should Look to Add Before the Deadline
The Toronto Blue Jays seem to be limping towards the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Injuries and shaky pitching from their starting rotation have played a big part.
In addition to upgrading at second base and at the hot corner, the Jays need to add pitching—both starters and relievers.
Their bullpen stats lag well behind the rest of the major leagues, and their starters also rank in the bottom half of the majors in many important categories. What's worse is that they're behind in many areas, despite sub-3.00 ERAs from both Mark Buehrle (even though his ERA has jumped by 0.60 since June 7, entering Sunday's start) and Marcus Stroman (as a starter). That speaks to the lack of depth and stability in the rotation.
If Toronto expects to snap a decades-long playoff drought, it'll need to bring in a pitcher, possibly a few.
So who should it target?
First, and foremost, the Blue Jays need to add someone who will provide a real boost to their staff. Secondly, the player's contract is important as Toronto has already committed over $132 million in salary for 2014 and may not have much payroll flexibility. Third, the cost to acquire a player must also be considered. Finally, there has to be a realistic chance that the player could be dealt in the next few weeks—in other words, the player would be from a team considered a seller.
Before delving into the top pitching candidates for the Jays to trade for sometime this month, here are a few hurlers who—for one reason or another—aren't likely to be in Toronto this year.
David Price (SP, Tampa Bay Rays)
As incredible as it would be for Jays fans to see Price in a Blue Jays uniform, the chances it actually happens are slim to none.
The price tag would be steep but worth it. Price is on an absolute tear. He's controllable through next season. All factors that would bump him to the top of this list if it weren't for the fact that the Rays are almost certainly going to avoid dealing him within the AL East.
Cole Hamels (SP, Philadelphia Phillies)
Hamels and Toronto have been linked by rumors dating back to 2012, when Shane Victorino was still in Philadelphia.
Another southpaw with excellent numbers and an ability to really upgrade the bluebirds' rotation, Hamels is also unlikely to end up in Hogtown.
Not only would he command several of Toronto's top prospects, but the price tag would go up should the Blue Jays insist the Phillies eat some of his salary—which would be a necessity for the deal to go through.
To top it all off, Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal reported a few weeks ago that Toronto is on Hamels' no-trade list:
Joaquin Benoit (RP, San Diego Padres)
Benoit is the one person on this list who could very well end up being a Blue Jay by July 31.
He's had a sensational year, posting a 2.04 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, over 10 strikeouts per nine innings and has been used in the setup role all season in San Diego.
He missed the top five here because of the other pitchers who are available and a statement made by a Padres official that the price to acquire Benoit may be more than team anticipate, per Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe.
5.) Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Philadelphia Philles
I wrote an article earlier this week on why the Jays' front office should consider making a move for Jonathan Papelbon.
I still believe he'd be an excellent—albeit expensive—reliever for the club.
His numbers are outstanding. He's thrown for a 1.17 ERA and 0.84 WHIP through 38.1 innings pitched in the City of Brotherly Love. Furthermore, his discontent in Philly would help give the Jays leverage in negotiations.
Some may be turned off by his attitude and trade demands, but I see that as a desire to be on a contending club and actually count that as a positive.
The reason he isn't ahead of the other relievers on this list are the concern that he may demand to be the team's closer considering his vesting option for 2016—worth $13 million—depends on him finishing games and not being a setup man, and his contract guarantees him another $13 million in 2015.
4.) Ian Kennedy, SP, San Diego Padres
After a few tough seasons in Arizona, Ian Kennedy has had somewhat of a bounce-back year in 2014.
His 3.62 ERA and 1.21 WHIP are both respectable numbers. He's also striking out just over a batter per inning and only walks 2.6 per nine.
He's also eaten up over 129 innings for San Diego this year and could be acquired at a reasonable rate seeing as the Padres are heading into the deadline as a seller.
Kennedy would be a solid addition to the middle of the Jays rotation, something they'll need if they hope to make a push for the postseason.
The only concern surrounding Kennedy is his 95 ERA+. That is below the average of 100, meaning after weighing the ballparks and league he's pitching in, it seems that pitcher-friendly Petco Park may be inflating his statistics.
3.) Joakim Soria, RP, Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers' Joakim Soria has some of the most impressive numbers of any reliever on this list.
His 2.59 ERA doesn't match the others, but his 0.84 FIP and 0.80 WHIP are absolutely sensational. Then there's his 1.1 walks and 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings (giving him a K:BB ratio of 10.5:1).
Another bonus is that Soria has the versatility to be a setup man or closer. That could come in handy should Casey Janssen get hurt.
The only roadblocks to a potential deal here are the Rangers' price tag and the competition.
Texas may be a seller this year, but it has been hurt by injuries in 2014 and could still re-load and contend in 2015. That means it may be less willing to deal its players than teams like the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs or San Diego Padres.
Jon Heyman of cbssports.com also points out that there are multiple teams that could be interested in the Mexican reliever's services, including the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.
2.) Chad Qualls, RP, Houston Astros
Toronto's best option to bolster its bullpen this month is the Astros' Chad Qualls.
He checks off all the boxes on Toronto's wishlist.
So far this season, he's posted a 1.89 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and has only walked 1.1 batters per nine innings. He's also been a versatile player out of the 'pen, finishing 24 games and appearing in 13 others.
He plays for a team sure to be selling assets—especially 35-year-old relief pitchers—and has a very manageable contract ($2.7 million this season, $3.0 million in 2015 and a team option for $3.5 million for 2016).
And acquiring Qualls won't cost the team any of its best young players.
1.) Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies
If Qualls is the pitcher Toronto should pursue to help its relief core, Cliff Lee is the best option to assist the starting rotation.
Lee may coming off an injury, but he is set to rejoin Philadelphia's rotation this week. While it may be a risky proposition, it could also help the Jays haggle the price tag down.
Acquiring Lee would give the Jays another legitimate left-handed starter, as well as another bona fide top-of-the-rotation arm.
His numbers through 10 starts this season were also impressive.
His ERA sits at 3.18, WHIP at 1.28 and he's given up just 1.1 walks per nine innings. His ERA+ and FIP are also respectable at 117 and 2.69, respectively.
It cannot be overstated how big of an impact a successful, veteran starting pitcher can have on a club down the stretch, either.
Of course, any kind of deal for the southpaw would have to see Philly eat some of his contract, but giving up an additional prospect to acquire a pitcher who could put the team over the top in the AL East surely has to be worth it.
All statistics obtained courtesy of baseball-reference.com, unless otherwise noted.
Jon Reid is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Follow him on twitter @JonReidCSM.