TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has made no secret of the fact that he wants to upgrade his starting rotation. If there was any doubt about that stance, it was removed with the decision to move Aaron Sanchez into the bullpen.
Toronto manager John Gibbons announced after Sunday's 4-0 victory that Sanchez will enter the mix in late-inning relief when he returns from a rehab assignment later this week. The uncertainty of Sanchez's role has been hanging over the franchise for most of the year, but now there is a clear direction.
Sanchez should go a long way in helping to alleviate concerns at the back end of the Blue Jays' bullpen. Rookie Roberto Osuna and -- more recently -- Bo Schultz have been the only consistently reliable options in high-leverage situations. The hope is that the presence of Sanchez will stop the trend of giving away far too many games from the seventh inning on.
The problem with Sanchez moving to the bullpen is that it leaves a gaping hole in the rotation. It's fair to wonder how long the club can afford to stick with left-hander Felix Doubront as the No. 5 starter. In a lot of ways, it seems Anthopoulos has no choice but to pull the trigger on a big deal.
Here's a closer look at some of the pitchers who will likely be available prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. For argument's sake, Phillies lefty Cole Hamels won't be included because his sizeable contract is probably out of Toronto's reach, and there are legitimate questions about whether or not he would be willing to waive a no-trade clause to join the Blue Jays.
Scott Kazmir, LHP, Oakland A's
Kazmir dealt with a left shoulder injury earlier this year, and he missed his last outing before the All-Star break because of soreness in his triceps. Normally, that would raise some red flags, but Kazmir returned to toss 8 1/3 shutout innings vs. the Twins. He has been one of the more underrated pitchers this season with a 2.38 ERA, and since he is a free agent at the end of the year, Kazmir would make sense to a lot of teams as a rental.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP, Chicago White Sox
This name is familiar to Blue Jays fans, as he was constantly in the rumor mill last summer with the Cubs. This year, Samardzija is pitching for the White Sox, and the results have been somewhat mixed. But despite the inconsistency, he has flashed No. 1 starter potential. He's also a free agent at the end of the year, and with the White Sox seemingly hard pressed to make a run, he'll likely be moved.
Johnny Cueto, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Cueto is the best pitcher on this list, but he also comes with the largest amount of risk. He dealt with a right elbow injury before the All-Star Game, and there has been a noticeable drop in his velocity. In Cueto's outing against the Indians, he walked six and lasted just four innings. That's going to hurt his value, but the Reds should still be able to get a king's ransom for their ace starter.
Mike Leake, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
Even if or when the Reds deal Cueto, they likely won't be done there. Leake is another pending free agent who is expected to be moved over the next week and a half. He's not the ace pitcher that a lot of people feel the Blue Jays need, but he's an upgrade over Doubront, and he would give Toronto another mid-rotation piece. The goal should be to aim higher than this, but if Anthopoulos comes up short in his pursuit of some bigger names, Leake could be a solid backup plan.
Marlins righties could be on the market
Miami is 12 games back in the National League East, and that should mean that a pair of pending free agents will be on their way out the door. Right-handers Dan Haren and Mat Latos have the experience, but there will be some question marks about their ability to transition to the American League. Haren doesn't throw as hard as he used to, and Latos has been a disappointment this year with a 4.90 ERA.
Padres pitchers aplenty
The direction San Diego general manager A.J. Preller decides to take will have major ramifications throughout the league. The Padres have been a major disappointment this year, and they could decide to shake things up before the Deadline -- but it's not something they will be forced into. James Shields, Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner are all under club control for the foreseeable future, but they would fit with Anthopoulos' preference to add players who aren't going to leave at the end of the year.
The wild card
Detroit is another team with tough decisions to make before July 31. If the Tigers decide that they don't have enough to make a run, then David Price would likely become the biggest name available this summer. Price is a proven commodity in the AL East after his time with Tampa Bay. When he's hot, you can only count the number of pitchers who are better on one hand. The question is whether Toronto would have enough prospect capital to get a deal done, because trading away Marcus Stroman or top prospect Jeff Hoffman seems to be out of the question.